The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy inaugurated its first annual lecture on liturgy with Fr. John Baldovin, S.J., professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College, addressing “Adoration of the Eucharist Today” on November 7. His lectured outlined the history of Eucharistic Adoration, the Church’s operative document on Eucharistic adoration from 1973, and the spirituality of Eucharistic adoration.

Fr. Baldovin began by citing Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 post-synodal apostolic exhortation SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, which speaks of “Eucharistic adoration (as) being the natural consequence of the Eucharistic celebration, which is itself the Church’s supreme act of adoration.” Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass “prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself,” and brings one into personal communion with the Lord.

Additionally, Fr. Baldovin pointed out that in SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, Eucharistic adoration “points to the whole communion of the Church” and Pope Benedict has encouraged families and parishes to set aside time for collective adoration, calling for a renewal of a practice that has diminished over the past 40 years. Common forms of Eucharistic piety would include the traditional Corpus Christi procession, 40 hours devotion, and local, national, and international Eucharistic conferences.

Describing the history of Eucharistic adoration, Fr. Baldovin mentioned that the eastern churches do not have much of a practice of Eucharistic adoration outside of Mass. Eucharistic adoration primarily grew out of the western Church. First, Justin Martyr around AD 155 mentioned communion being brought to the homebound, an early example of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament was also practiced for monastic communities.

In the eleventh century, LanFranc, archbishop of Canterbury defended the doctrine of transubstantiation against Berenger of Tours. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament increased in response to heretical groups, such as the Cathars and Albigensians of the twelfth century, when the Church emphasized a great love and respect for the physical body of Christ and one’s own body, contrary to these anti-Body teachings of these groups.

Elevation of the Host at the consecration began to occur in the Mass during the thirteenth century. Additionally, the Feast of Corpus Christi began to be celebrated in the Low Countries, a practiced inspired by Juliana of Liège and her petitions to her superiors. In 1263, Pope Urban IV sanctioned the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi throughout the whole Latin Rite.

Popularity of this feast led to the development of Eucharistic processions and it was in these processions did Eucharistic Benediction also develop.

Citing Nathan Mitchell, concurrent associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Fr. Baldovin emphasized that Eucharistic adoration was not to inhibit popular participation in the Mass and liturgy. Examining the 1973 Instruction of the Church’s official and operative document on Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside of Mass, Fr. Baldovin stated that adoration of the Lord in the Eucharist was intimately tied with the celebration of the Eucharist.

Fr. Baldovin also noted the document’s emphasis on the connection between Eucharistic celebration and Eucharistic adoration.

“Before 1960, there was a common practice of disassociating communion from the liturgical celebration,” Fr. Baldovin said.  Citing Bernad Botte’s memoir on liturgical movement, FROM SILENCE TO PARTICIPATION, Fr. Baldovin explained that “there was no logical connection between the celebration of the Eucharist and the reception of Holy Communion.”  One could have received Holy Communion before Mass started, after Mass ended, or, recalling his own childhood, immediately after the consecration but receiving consecrated hosts which were reserved in another tabernacle and not the hosts just consecrated by the priest.

Citing Karl Rahner, Fr. Baldovin said that one almost received the impression that “we consecrated the Eucharist…only to adore it in the afternoon.”  He also mentioned that frequent reception of Holy Communion was not common until the twentieth century.

Noting St. Thomas Aquinas’s metrical Eucharistic hymns as being some of few hymns marked for official use in the liturgy, Fr. Baldovin remarked that “Tantum ergo Sacramentum” “beautifully connects the Incarnate Lord Jesus, his self-gift at the Last Supper, and the elements which we adore.” He said that the Eucharist is the “result of God’s love for us in Christ,” and adoration “should lead us back to the celebration of that love in the Eucharistic celebration itself.”

Drawing from Pope Pius VI’s 1965 encyclical on the Holy Eucharist MYSTERIUM FIDEI, one can define the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament in 4 different ways: the assembly of the faithful themselves, in the Word as read and as proclaimed, in the person of the minister, and above all, how Christ is uniquely, substantially, and permanently in the consecrated elements.

In conclusion, Fr. Baldovin encouraged a greater practice of Eucharistic adoration, for at the core of the spirituality of Eucharistic adoration is an encounter with a person, Jesus Christ. For Fr. Baldovin, “simply being with the Beloved is the profound rationale for Eucharistic adoration.”

Sandra Laguerta is not a liturgist but encourages readers to pick up LITURGY AND PERSONALITY by Dietrich von Hildebrand and THE SPIRIT OF THE LITURGY by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). Contact her at with any questions.

On November 28, the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy will host a talk on Mary in the Advent tradition.