Alaskans pray before the real presence of Christ

The night deepens and with it introspection. All is quiet in the parish with time enough to examine the past, contemplate the future, death and eternity. Those who enter the parish to pray before Christ in the Eucharist speak of a sense of peace that washes away the stresses of the week and offers a foretaste of eternity with God in heaven.

The Catholic Church teaches that the four forms of prayer revealed in Scripture are petition, intercession, thanksgiving and adoration. In particular, adoration acknowledges God as Creator and the one who sets people free from evil.

Eucharistic adoration is understood as a privileged form of adoration which draws the faithful’s gaze directly to Christ in the Eucharist.

For its practitioners, eucharistic adoration is usually an hour of devotion each week in closeness to Christ, but for some it becomes an all-night sojourn of exploration and healing. Anchored in the Catholic understanding of transubstantiation — that at the consecration during Mass, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ — eucharistic adoration draws young and old.

“I would say that if they really want to deepen their relationship with Jesus, that’s an excellent place to do so,” said Deacon Jon Hermon, of Sacred Heart Church in Wasilla.

“There’s a lot of grace that comes from sitting with him and talking with him and praying. It’s a great way to come down off the mountain, with that glow,” Deacon Hermon added. “It gives you the energy and the grace to take on the rest of the week. I’m glad somebody told me about it.”

The belief in the real Body of Christ comes from the Last Supper and the Gospel of Saint John, where Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life … for my flesh is true food and my blood true drink.”

Christian believers in the early apostolic church continued celebrating the Eucharist, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, which continues in time and space the sacrifice of Calvary and continues to make present that saving act of Christ.

The practice of eucharistic adoration began in the late third century when priests began to consecrate more bread than would be consumed and would store the excesses in what developed into today’s tabernacle.

Today, Catholics participate in eucharistic exposition when the consecrated host is placed in a monstrance, an ornate vessel for public display of the Body of Christ.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament demands the presence of Christian adorers. Perpetual exposition is practiced in parishes where some of the faithful commit to praying around the clock, in shifts — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Outside of eucharistic exposition, anyone may adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament reposed inside the tabernacle at any time.

About 850 parishes offer perpetual eucharistic exposition in the United States. In Anchorage, Our Lady of Guadalupe Co-Cathedral, St. Benedict Church, St. Patrick Church, Blessed Sacrament Monastery and Holy Family Cathedral offer limited exposition at scheduled times while St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and St. Andrew Church offer perpetual exposition so that the faithful can participate in adoration at any time.

Many parishes have scheduled hourly time slots in which people commit to attend and pray. Many incorporate adoration as the start of their workdays. For 15 years Bill Schmidtkunz has started his Friday mornings in the presence of Christ at St. Michael Church in Palmer.

“I took the 5 a.m. slot since it fit into my work schedule,” said Schmidtkunz, who also serves as a parish lector, a sacristan and in hospitality. “It still means I’m up at around 3:30 a.m. I get coffee going, make my lunch for work and breakfast, and leave the house at 4:30 a.m., winter, spring, summer and fall.”

Many parishes provide introductions to eucharistic adoration for youth as part of retreats.

“At our youth meetings, I go over different prayer methods, and adoration is one of my biggest devotions,” explained Elise Zajicek, a youth minister at St. Benedict.

Zajicek recently accompanied a band of youth to a retreat at St. Therese’s Camp, in Wasilla. “Most of the youth had gone to adoration before, and the ones that hadn’t were really open to it,” she said.

Though the group had originally planned to pray before the Blessed Sacrament for one hour at the camp’s chapel, popular demand by the youth turned the devotion into an all-nighter, Zajicek said.

Devoting slices of time to adoration among the constant pull of cell phones, tablets, TV and gaming takes a little discipline, said Father Tom Lilly, pastor of St. Benedict.

“These days we look at what’s important to ourselves, and often that’s (an electronic device) in our hands, but when we put Christ first, he’s waiting for you, right there on the altar. We need to look up rather than look down.”

As for the benefits of spending an hour with Christ, Zajicek and others speak of experiencing transformation.

For those contemplating their first time with the Body of Christ, arriving with an open mind would be a key ingredient, said Zajicek.

Often adorers will spend their time praying the rosary, reading Scripture and offering adoration, contrition, supplications and thanksgiving to God.

“Just go,” she said. “I would say to go to adoration and see what the Lord has in store for you. Be okay with being in silence. If you’re going for the first time take a book or a rosary, but mainly it’s allowing the Lord to work through your heart in different ways. He’s always working in our hearts.”

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