Martin O’Brien meets members of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration
In just over two weeks’ time on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Sunday June 22, thousands of pilgrims from all over Ireland will converge on Knock Shrine for the second annual pilgrimage of the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration.
The first such pilgrimage in April last year packed the basilica with 10,000 souls, one of the best attended events organised by a single group at the shrine.
Swelling the numbers this year will be contingents from several parishes in Down and Connor, Ireland’s second largest diocese where this lay Apostolate has been redoubling its efforts in recent weeks and months with a series of information and training sessions geared towards the expansion and strengthening of adoration throughout the area.
The driving force behind the effort is Brendan Cleary, the Apostolate’s national training and development co-ordinator, a retired teacher from Navan and a native of Belleek, Co. Fermanagh.
“Our objective is to establish a system of viable weekly Eucharistic Adoration in every parish, based on a firm commitment by adorers to adore for one hour per week in groups of about four,” he says.
He describes four as “the optimum number” of committed adorers for each hour as too many could result in “less commitment and those four can accommodate 40 people coming in casually”.
His watchword is “commitment” at every level and he stresses that it is the commitment of adorers that permits casual adorers to come and go as they please.
In no circumstances may the Blessed Sacrament be left unattended as that ipso facto ends Eucharistic adoration requiring the Sacred Host to be placed in repose.
The Apostolate has “a presence” in 20 of Ireland’s 26 diocese and in 37 of the 87 parishes in Down and Connor.
About three years ago the Apostolate set up a diocesan adoration committee in Down and Connor with the full support of Bishop Noel Treanor and its spiritual director is Msgr Sean Connolly the retired parish priest of Ballymena who invited it there.
In the first year adoration was established in seven parishes with a total of about 1,600 adorers making a firm commitment.
Since then 15 more parishes have come on board increasing the number of adorers to an estimated 5,000 according to David O’Doherty, secretary of the diocesan adoration committee and deputy chairperson of the adoration committee in St Anne’s Parish in Dunmurry on the south-western outskirts of Belfast.
“You have 37 parishes with an average of perhaps 150 adorers so that is a considerable figure.”
David, a chartered quantity surveyor, who became drawn to adoration after hearing Brendan make a presentation in St Anne’s Parish three years ago uses a striking image to help explain what adoration means to him.
“I would describe adoration as the ladder out of the pit of hostility and indifference to God today.”
His own parish of St Anne’s seems a model for others. Adoration takes place a total of twenty hours in the week, on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 10am and 9pm and on Saturdays between 10am and noon with a pool of 120 adorers overseen by a committee of nine with a particularly active chairperson, deputy-chairperson and secretary.
He is very appreciative of the full co-operation and support of their parish priest, Fr Feargal McGrady who exposes the Blessed Sacrament after Mass in the normal way with a member of the Apostolate reposing it in the tabernacle at the end of the day and locking up the church.
Because Exposition normally begins after Mass “adoration flows from the Mass”.
Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis spoke of “the intrinsic relationship between celebration and adoration” stating “the act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself”.
David says that in his experience “90% of parish priests across the age range are delighted” to give this lay apostolate every co-operation.
The Apostolate, he explains, was founded in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s having been inspired by Pope St John Paul II and Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen who referred to his daily hour of adoration as his “hour of power” for spiritual renewal.
In his Letter to Priests on Holy Thursday in 1980 St John Paul wrote: “The Church and the world have great need of Eucharistic adoration. Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation full of faith.”
On a Saturday shortly before Easter I sat in on part of a four-hour information meeting and training session directed and addressed by Brendan Cleary and arranged by the Down and Connor diocesan committee at St Joseph’s Par ish Centre, Antrim, attended by 30 ‘new faces’ from parishes throughout the county.
Like a similar meeting held last month on a Tuesday evening at the Kilmegan parish centre, Castlewellan, Co. Down its objective was to find lay people who will join the existing diocesan team “in order to promote, expand and consolidate Eucharistic adoration throughout the diocese”.
The meetings were successful producing a total of about 15 volunteers in roughly equal numbers.
They will carry out a number of differing but complementary roles.
These include joining a two person team to make initial contact with parish priests about setting up adoration in parishes, making a presentation at Masses appealing for volunteers for adoration and for others to help out. And appealing for volunteers to pray for the successful introduction of adoration in the parish concerned.
The volunteers do not work in their own parishes where they are adorers themselves committed to their own hour per week.
The acting chairperson of the diocesan committee is Anne Marie McNeill, a marketing and recruitment consultant and former college lecturer from Randalstown, Co. Antrim.
In Randalstown, Fr Con Boyle PP exposes the Blessed Sacrament after 9.30am Mass on Wednesdays and Anne Marie reposes it at 6pm.
Anne Marie, a wife and mother who formerly lived in Belfast has been an adorer for 23 years and speaks powerfully about how adoration of the Eucharist transformed her life and that of her family.
Four years ago her oldest daughter, Fiona, (40) died suddenly in the most tragic and challenging of circumstances.
“I want to witness to the power of God through Eucharistic adoration which brought about forgiveness and acceptance. Without our faith that would have been very hard indeed.”
Brendan Cleary also speaks passionately about adoration describing it “a personal encounter with the glorified Risen Jesus who is truly present”. “One of the fruits of adoration is that it sets people on fire.”
He then describes a personal experience he will never forget when he first volunteered as an adorer when adoration started at St Mary’s, Navan in 1989.
He put his name down for a Sunday morning at 4am and slept in, waking up at the moment his hour was up.
The following week he was “dreading the thought of trying to wake up again at 3am and was weaving in and out of sleep”.
“This very commanding voice said ‘dress quickly or you will be late’. I heard it very clearly. I was suddenly wide awake and I went off like a shot.
“Half way into town the same person said to me ‘You may not think this hour is important, but the one who waits to keep it with you considers it to be very important’.”
Brendan adds: “So I was now like the disciples. Putting your name down for adoration is entering into discipleship. I was being taught for the very first time that this was an encounter with a living person and it was a two-way appointment.”
Brendan Cleary’s zeal for promoting Eucharistic adoration is as understandable as it is impressive.
For Brendan and Anne Marie McNeill and David O’Doherty and so many others the encounter at Emmaus 2,000 years ago (Luke 24:13-35) lives on during Eucharistic adoration.