In April, the Church encourages a new or renewed devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. As the Eucharist is truly Jesus present here on earth, praying in front of or near the Blessed Sacrament is an effective way to be literally close to God.
In the early Church, consecrated bread was brought to the sick and infirm if they could not make it to Mass. Some was reserved to be consumed during the week between Sunday Masses to remain rooted in the Lord and the wider community of believers. As daily Mass wasn’t easily celebrated in the early years, this was an important channel of graces for these first Christians.
Monastic communities were other early examples of keeping the Sacrament reserved. Hermits would have a special location within their cells for the Eucharist and would pray before Jesus throughout the day. In addition, the monastic churches would have a special space reserved for the Blessed Sacrament and from here would be able to distribute to the sick and infirm in their surrounding communities.
Eucharistic devotion really spread throughout the Church in response to high-profile denial of the True Presence. Until the 11th century, this teaching was pretty much a given and understood widely. But when the denials became publicized by clergy in the Church, the pope at the time came out strongly against the heresy and began to promote more teachings on the True Presence.
It was after this time that Eucharistic devotions began to flourish. The feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) and its resulting devotions were established in the 13th and 14th centuries. Some of the greatest Eucharistic hymns – still sung at adoration services today – were written during this time.
Towards the beginning of the last century, Pope Pius XII penned an encyclical, Mediator Dei, in which he wrote:
This practice of adoration, in fact, is based on strong and solid reasons. For the Eucharist is at once a sacrifice and a sacrament; but it differs from the other sacraments in this: that it not only produces grace, but contains in a permanent manner the Author of grace Himself. When, therefore, the Church bids us adore Christ hidden behind the eucharistic veils and pray to Him for spiritual and temporal favors, of which we ever stand in need, she manifests living faith in her divine Spouse who is present beneath these veils, she professes her gratitude to Him and she enjoys the intimacy of His friendship.
His words are no less true today than they were nearly a hundred years ago. And the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is no less than it was when He walked the earth nearly 2,000 years ago.
May we all take time this month to renew our love for the Lord in the Eucharist and find some quiet time to spend with Him under the cover of the Blessed Sacrament.