Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Visits to the Blessed Sacrament
In his infinite mercy, God has given us many means of sanctification. The Eucharist is the most important one. Through all the other means He gives us his grace; but in Holy Communion He gives Himself to us. This is why the Church has always surrounded the Eucharist with all veneration and tender loving care and developed various forms of worship around it. The Church has established Eucharistic triduums, weeks and congresses, holy hours, perpetual adoration, night vigils, Eucharistic processions, the feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, and many other liturgical or private pious practices.
Also to honor Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Church has highly recommended visits to the Blessed Sacrament both in days of solemn exposition and on common days. As zealous faithful wishing to have the mind of the Church in all things, we cannot remain indifferent to that recommendation.
The profound meaning of a visit to the Blessed Sacrament
Important personalities in a society are always surrounded with manifestations of esteem and respect, and it is just and advisable that it be so. Take a head of state, for example. In his palace, the antechamber is always teaming with people wishing to talk to him. Each has his own request to make: appointments, approval of proposals, granting petitions etc. If he goes out on the street, passers-by stop to observe him; escorts precede his automobile with sirens going; a retinue always accompanies him. If he travels, he is welcomed everywhere with speeches, bands, ceremonies and festive receptions.
All proportions kept, this happens with any potentate on earth. Is he rich? His antechamber is full. Some ask him for donations, others invite him to receptions, others simply flatter him. Is he the director of a large company? They ask him for jobs, resort to his influence. Is that one famous for his knowledge? They consult him and want to have him as a friend.
Jesus alive in the Blessed Sacrament, Who we always have among us, is more powerful than politicians, richer than any potentate, more knowledgeable than any man of letters or science. How could we be more diligent having recourse to the grandees of this earth than to Him? Who would dare to deny that it is just and wholesome that we always look to Him with great earnestness and fervor to ask Him for the spiritual and material goods we need, expose to him our temptations and anguishes, thank him for the gifts received, manifest our love and adore Him? To the Samaritan woman, Our Lord said, “If you only knew the gift of God…” We can tell ourselves the same. If we knew with a living and ardent faith He who has been given to us we would have a much greater diligence to be with him and speak to him frequently.
Visits should be frequent
If we are able to, we must visit the Blessed Sacrament several times a day. We need divine grace at every moment and to practice every act of virtue. Is it not just for us to ask for that grace often by resorting over and over to the Friend we have among us?
Frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament also have the enormous advantage of making easier certain common practices of the ascetic life such as the custody of the heart, the particular examination of conscience and the exercise of the presence of God. These exercises require us to place a constant attention on ourselves. Now then, the often absorbing and annoying chores of daily life tend to dissipate us and make those ascetic practices particularly arduous. If we are able to recollect ourselves a few times during the day and tell Jesus present in the Eucharist everything that we have in our soul, it will be easier to exercise custody of the heart, examine ourselves about a specific point, and keep ourselves in His presence.
Also laudable is the practice of visiting Jesus in the Eucharist on certain occasions rather inconvenient for us. For example, if a young man leaving at night to go to a meeting was to change his itinerary especially to visit a church, it is easy to understand how that would be pleasing to Our Lord, Who has loved men so much and is so little corresponded to. If at times our spiritual difficulties are not being resolved and material problems become more and more pressing, would that not be, at least in part, caused by our having tried to reduced everything to what is easier and more convenient? To impose sacrifice on ourselves is a salutary measure that tempers the soul and attracts blessings from Heaven.
Also, it can often happen that we are able to say our usual prayers: rosary, mediation, the office of Our Lady etc. both at home and in church. In that case, it is laudable for us to give preference to doing it in church. Jesus, who allowed Himself to be touched by the tears of the widow from Naim and resurrected her son, also easily lets himself be moved by those who always look for his company. His Heart, which suffers so much from the indifference and apathy of men, wants to have us always with It.
To Him the Church applies the words of Scripture: “I looked for someone who would console me and found no one.” And Jesus himself reprehended the Apostles who slept: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?”
Objections to visiting the Blessed Sacrament
In most cases, persons who neglect this pious practice are not led by doctrinal reasons but practical ones. They do not know how to visit Our Lord, do not see the fruits it brings, become tired and end up by discontinuing such visits. Therefore, their objections are above all practical and more disguised, subtle and more dangerous. Hence the importance for us to study them carefully.
First objection: When I started to make visits to the Blessed Sacrament often, they did me good. But now I no longer feel any piety at all.
Answer: True devotion does not consist of “feeling” something. God wants our love, which can exist without any sensible emotion. This is not a reason to abandon such a recommendable practice of piety.
Second objection: I have nothing to say to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. My visits have become cold, robotic, merely exterior.
Answer: Even if you have nothing to tell Our Lord, the visit is highly fruitful for the soul because the mere presence of the sacred species exerts a sanctifying effect upon a pious soul. It is said that an old sacristan of a convent would spend hours on end sitting in church looking at the altar. When they asked what he did all that time, he answered: “I look at Christ and He looks at me.” This is an elevated degree of prayer. Therefore, no one can forsake visits to the Blessed Sacrament on the allegation that he has nothing to say to Jesus.
Many times we have nothing to say to Him because of our own laxity, as we make no effort to visit him well. Why do we not take advantage of the occasion recall the resolutions of our latest meditation and reaffirm to Our Lord our desire to implement them? Why do we not expound to Him the spiritual and material difficulties with which we are concerned at the moment? Why do we not think about the fact that we are visiting our King, supremely majestic and amiable Who has deigned call us friends rather than servants?
A phrase from Scripture can inspire in us some acts of love for Him. Let us tell Him we want to watch with Him at least a few minutes; that we want to console Him according to the bitter complaint that He expressed; that the kiss we give Him will not be one of treason; that we will try and give Him to drink as He is thirsty etc.
Third objection: The time I have for the apostolate is already short as it is. If I interrupt this work to go to church there will be nothing left.
Answer: Evidently, establishing how often to make visits to the Blessed Sacrament depends on the concrete circumstances of each person’s life. For example, someone who lives next to a church can make them numerous times. Therefore, we cannot say that visits to the Blessed Sacrament must be numerous in any and every concrete circumstance. We would simply like to recall that this difficulty is often without real foundation and inspired by sheer activist naturalism. The person wants to work for the apostolate without minding that interior life is the soul of the apostolate. Hence he finds no time to pray. Sooner or later he will end up failing, as he is carrying out a human work rather than a work of grace. We advise anyone making that objection against visiting the Blessed Sacrament to examine himself very carefully.
Fourth objection: The argumentation presented in favor of frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament is based on reasons of a merely sentimental nature: to console Jesus, pay Him company, converse with Him, receive the beneficent influence of His presence etc. Now then, my faith is enlightened and manly. I hate sentimentalism more than anything. Therefore, I prefer religious acts of a more serious and intellectual nature: to study Church doctrine, make meditations according to the method of St. Ignatius, attend lectures etc.
Answer: When Our Lord asked the Apostles to watch in his company, was He moved by a condemnable sentimentalism? Is your faith “enlightened and manly” or is it false, intellectualist and cold? And since when has the method of St. Ignatius excluded tender and loving acts toward the adorable Person of our Savior? He who makes this objection almost blasphemes and is often moved by a falsely profound, Cartesian and intellectualist mind irreconcilable with the spirit of the Church. We cannot be tolerant toward sentimentalism, but that is no reason to proscribe every sentiment, even good ones. Furthermore, the objection is unilateral by claiming that all arguments in favor of visits to the Blessed Sacrament are based only on our legitimate need to have lively sentiments and affection toward Our Lord.
Fifth objection: As far as pious practices are concerned, I stick to liturgical practices. Since the liturgy is the official prayer of the Church, liturgical acts have more value than private acts of piety. Being able to buy for the same price a highly valuable jewel or a second rate one, who would pick the latter? I have chosen the highly valuable one: liturgical prayer.
Answer: You have chosen the valuable one? No! You have incurred the condemnation of the Church, since your objection was proscribed by the Holy Father Pius XII in the Encyclical Mediator Dei as opposed to Catholic doctrine. He says: “Do not allow devotion and visits to the Blessed Sacrament to be cast aside – as some intend to do on the pretext of renewing the liturgy or lightly claiming an efficacy and dignity exclusive to liturgical acts.” And further on, referring to these extra-liturgical practices, the Encyclical continues: “Anyone who harshly dared undertake a reform of these pious exercises and wished to reduce them to strictly liturgical schemes would be doing something pernicious and totally erroneous.”
We recommend to all those wishing to delve deeper into this matter, to read that Encyclical and study the chapter on liturgy of the “Pastoral Letter on Problems of the Modern Apostolate,” by Dom Antonio de Castro Mayer.