Prayer Before the Eucharistic Christ
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
I know that numerous popular devotions held in church before the Blessed Sacrament have been swept away as by a tornado. I know that in the laudable effort to highlight the Eucharistic Liturgy and therefore emphasize the altar, the tabernacle has been almost put out of sight, hidden away, as though Christ's Eucharistic Presence continuing after Mass and between Masses were something to be apologized for. I know there are speakers and writers who say things about the Real Presence which obscure the fact that Jesus Christ is really, truly and substantially present in the Blessed Sacrament not only during Mass or at Communion time but all the time, as long as the sacred elements remain.
For all of these and other painfully urgent reasons we could not spend our reflective time more profitably than to ask ourselves why every believing Catholic should make it a practice to pray as much as he can before the Blessed Sacrament on the altar.
Faith in the Incarnation
The most fundamental reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so meritorious is because it is prayer arising from faith in the cardinal mystery of Christianity, which is faith in the Incarnation. In the famous sixth chapter of John's gospel wherein the Savior predicted the Eucharist, the whole first part of that chapter is on faith in him as the Incarnate Son of God. When, therefore, we pray before the Eucharist, whether we advert to it or not, whether we even think of it or not, we are professing in the depths of our souls our faith in Jesus Christ as the natural, only begotten Son of the Father.
Faith in the Real Presence
Another reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so praiseworthy is because it is a profession of faith in the real bodily presence of Jesus under the sacramental veils. On the same occasion when the Savior foretold the Eucharist he so intertwined two objects of faith as to make them almost inseparable. Let me change it - so closely did he intertwine them that for all time they remain inseparable: faith in his divinity and faith in his Eucharistic humanity, otherwise known as the Real Presence. He who was conceived, who preached and worked miracles throughout Palestine, who died on the cross on Calvary, rose from the dead an ascended to his Father at Jerusalem; is the same Jesus who was there in a definite geographic locality is not there also in a definite geographic place in whatever city or town where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. This is the Christ of history and the Christ—how I like to say it—of geography.
If, as the apostle tells us, without faith no one can please God, so without faith no one can hope to obtain anything from God. On both counts the believer who prays before the Eucharist is a believer indeed. He believes that Jesus Christ is the man from Nazareth, but that this man is the eternal God. He further believes that this same Jesus who is God made man is present as man on earth today: that he is only feet away from me when I pray before him; that in the Eucharist he has the same human body and soul, hands, feet, and Sacred Heart as he has now in heaven.
Once we establish the fact of faith that the same Jesus is in the Eucharist as was on earth in New Testament times, it is not difficult to appreciate the third reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so efficacious. As we read the pages of the Gospels we are struck by the Immaculata marvelous power that Christ's humanity had in effecting changes in the persons who came into contact with him.
When the woman with the hemorrhage who had been ill for a dozen years came up behind Jesus, she said to herself, “If I can even touch his clothes I shall be well again.” She touched his clothes and was instantly healed. Mark makes a significant observation about Jesus: “Immediately,” he says, “Christ was aware that power had gone out from him.”
This, humanity, as we know, operates in many ways, but it acts nowhere more effectively—and I wish to add, miraculously—than through the human nature that is substantially united to the divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.
One of the best ways to look at prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is to see it as an extension of Holy Communion. Christ himself could not have been plainer when he called himself “the Bread of Life” and told us to eat his Body and drink his Blood. What we may overlook, however, is that the spiritual nourishment that comes from the Eucharist does not end with Holy Communion ….As we pray before the Blessed Sacrament our souls are fed by the Person of the Savior in the two faculties of spirit that need to be constantly fed. They are the mind and the will. In the mind we need light; in the will we need strength. And both needs are met in an extraordinary way through earnest prayer before the Eucharist.
All we need to do is to believe sufficiently, to come to him in the Blessed Sacrament and ask very simply, “Lord, teach me. I'm dumb.” And that is no exaggeration! “Your servant is listening and ready to learn.”
In the will we need strength to supply for the notorious weakness that by now we are almost ashamed to call our own. How well it is that other people do not know how really stupid and weak we are. What a precious secret! But again, is it not the same Christ who encouraged the disciples, who braced up the faltering Peter and promised to be with us all days? That promise is to be taken literally. He is here. Jesus is here telling us today, “Peace I bequeath to you. My own peace I give you.” Thanks, Lord, I sure need it!
The final and in a way most important reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so important is that when we pray before the Eucharist we have before us in human form the principal reason for our existence, which is the all-loving God.
St. Margaret Mary was chosen by Providence, as Christ told her, principally to restore to a loveless world the practice of the love of God. What was the principal means that she was to tell the faithful to use to restore this neglected love? It was devotion to the Blessed Sacrament where, as the Savior complained, in the greatest manifestation of his love he is most neglected and forgotten, and worst of all by souls who are consecrated to him by the sacred bonds of the priesthood and religious life. I cannot think of anything that the Catholic Church, especially in our day, needs more than thousands of souls in every walk of life who pray daily before the Blessed Sacrament, telling God who is there in the flesh in the Eucharist how much they love him and asking him for the most important favor we can ask of God: to love him still more.