Fr Timothy Menezes leads us in a reflection on the treasure, joy and art of praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
Since I have always had an interest in the liturgy, and have studied its principles and for so much of my life as a priest have been asked to teach others about it, writing prayers has also been part of my ministry: prayers for the blessing of new buildings; prayers for the blessing of houses and families; prayers for wedding anniversaries and so on. I enjoy that creative expression which so often depends so much upon the circumstances for which the prayer is required.
Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is, for some, a comfortable and preferred choice and, for others, a struggle and something of an endurance, at the end of which they are not sure what was achieved.
In reflecting on this form of prayer, I have come to understand that, rather like the Church’s understanding of the moments around the reception of Holy Communion at Mass, deeply personal but not private, coming before the Lord in a time of adoration is praying with the Church and uniting ourselves with Christ, with the family of faith and with the human family.
I was once introduced to an ecumenical initiative called ‘Just Listen’. It asked people to consider the art of listening to others and not seeking to give advice of any kind. It was based upon the fact that, for most people in any kind of need, it is not even direction that they seek but the knowledge that somebody is listening to them. Loneliness in society has been likened to serious illness, and the idea that somebody could give an hour or so to say to another: ‘I am here to listen to you, without judgement, without answers’, has been seen to provide a level of response to the problems of loneliness, isolation and frustration.
Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is a very precious form of just listening – and the listening is done by Jesus himself. The idea of God speaking to us in prayer is a difficult concept. Coming before the Lord, present for us, more capable than human beings of listening to more than one person at a time, and knowing that we can place before him the things most precious to us, not worrying about trustworthiness, is a form of prayer that can be of solace and strength to any Christian.
‘I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting himwht by the Lord”’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel).
It is likely that, to have chosen to come to prayer, you have either something to ask of God or something to be thankful for in prayer. That is the real starting-point and it is more important than how you pray.
Pray in the way that works for you
The lives of the saints or the example of people we know might be helpful to us, but they should never become a challenge for us. As God speaks to each of us in different ways, so approaches to prayer are different.
Place and Time
These have a bearing on our prayer, but for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament they might well be limited to certain hours of the day and a certain place.
Posture in Prayer
There is something about humbling ourselves in the presence of God, whether by genuflecting or kneeling. However, where those actions are not possible, bowing and then sitting down, or varying posture between kneeling and sitting should lead us to a level of comfort so that our posture does not become a hindrance to our prayer.
Focus for Prayer
The Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle (a dwelling-place for God) or in the Monstrance (the holy object used to ‘show’ the Real Presence of Christ) is the same Eucharist that is shown to us accompanied by the words of Christ in the Mass.
For one person, the Tabernacle or the Monstrance becomes the focus; for another, eyes closed but knowing God’s Presence to be before you, is a way of concentrating; and for another, the reading of Scripture, or the Divine Office or another text of your choice is a way.
To come before the Lord in this prayer is to find the balance between being in awe of the immensity of God our Master and talking to
Structure of Prayer
The norm for Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is silent prayer.
It is always good to begin with a time of thanksgiving to God for blessings received from God or answers to prayer.
A short passage of Scripture is an obvious way to listen to the voice of the Lord. This can be the reading of today’s Mass; or a book of the Bible you might be interested in. It can be one line from Scripture that either means something to you already or which you wish to centre on. Repeating it or contemplating it slowly, word by word, can be helpful.
Then you can pray for the needs of others. Our prayer is often so much more focused when we look to the needs of others before our own.
You can then look to your own needs. Let this prayer be an opening of your heart to Christ, who in his humanity can listen to you and understand something of the human struggle and in his divinity can intercede with his Father and our Father for the needs you bring to this time of prayer.
Throughout this time of prayer, you can either pray with familiar words (the Our Father; or a prayer to Jesus, e.g., Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in you) or you can simply structure your prayer as a conversation with a friend, placing before the Lord all that is in your mind and heart.
Always try to conclude a time of prayer with some words of gratitude to the Lord and an expression of hope that you will meet the Lord again in prayer very soon.
Outcomes of Prayer
The first outcome of prayer is the knowledge that, whatever time we give to prayer, the Lord uses that time, regardless of whether or not we felt the time was well spent.The motif of a conversation with the Lord requires both speaking and listening. In the introduction I referred to the Lord listening to us in this prayer and the consolation of being listened to.
The idea of Jesus speaking to us is a much more challenging thought. Some people have a clear sense of the Lord speaking to them; others will openly admit that they are listening but they do not hear much. Perhaps with this in mind, we know that in any conversation, in any friendship, in any relationship of trust, it takes time to build up a rapport, a pattern of communication. Most of all, it takes time and a willingness to make room in life for another person. This is true for prayer. It is a lifelong endeavour, and the more we reflect on the place and time, posture, focus and structure of our prayer, only then will outcomes be in any way possible.