Eucharistic Adoration: The Development of a Devotion

The custom of honouring the Eucharistic presence of Christ our Lord by paying “Visits” to the Blessed Sacrament may be quoted as one of the most conspicuous examples of development in the devotional practice of the Catholic Church. 

If you are looking for thought-provoking meditations for Eucharistic Adoration this Lent, look no further! Beginning with this lovely preface today (Ash Wednesday), from hereafter each Thursday throughout Lent we will post a chapter from Coram Sanctissimo, a simple yet profound work by Mother Mary Loyola, first published in 1902. If you’ve ever wondered over the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, be sure to read on!


coram sanctissimo

In this Preface to Coram Sanctissimo by Mother Mary Loyola,
Herbert Thurston, S.J., introduces this beautiful book of meditations for Eucharistic Adoration by first discussing the development of the devotion.

Coram Sanctissimo


The custom of honouring the Eucharistic presence of Christ our Lord by paying “Visits” to the Blessed Sacrament may be quoted as one of the most conspicuous examples of development in the devotional practice of the Catholic Church.  Down to the latter part of the Middle Ages such an usage seems to have been entirely unknown.  As far as regards England, the late Father Bridgett, if I mistake not, says that in all the researches made by him while compiling his History of the Holy Eucharist in Great Britain he had not come across one clear example of a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in pre-Reformation times.  Even on the Continent the idea of any extra-liturgical cultus of the Blessed Eucharist seems to have grown up very tardily. There were many saints as late as the fifteenth century—say, for example, St. Frances of Rome, whose lives show no trace of such a conception, though nothing could be more strongly emphasised than their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion.  It is remarkable to notice that even St. Ignatius Loyola, in the book of the Spiritual Exercises, when directing attention to the abiding presence of God with His creatures as a motive for awakening love, says not a word of the Blessed Sacrament.  One must not, of course, press the negative argument too far.  No prudent man would infer in this latter case that the practice of visiting churches to commune with our Lord in the Tabernacle was unknown in the sixteenth century, but it is reasonable to conclude that the uninterrupted Eucharistic presence of God with His people did not then play the same conspicuous part in the devotional life of the faithful that it does in our day.

This late and gradual development of a devotion, which seems to us now so natural and so unmistakably involved in premises that all men accepted, is certainly a remarkable fact. Even to the present day the Greek Church, though its belief in transubstantiation is no less explicit than our own, has never drawn the inference that our Lord has come in the Blessed Sacrament to be our companion and refuge as well as our food.  It seems to have been part of the Divine dispensation, in this as in some other matters, to hold men’s eyes that they should not know Him.  Throughout the long centuries our forefathers seem to have regarded the Eucharistic presence as if Christ had wished to preserve His incognito while He dwelt amongst them, or as if He were sleeping as of old in the bark of Peter and would rebuke the want of faith of those who too importunately disturbed His repose.  But surely we are right in thinking that if they so apprehended God’s purpose in remaining on our altars, their appreciation of His boon was but inchoative and imperfect.  To us now it seems so obvious that the work of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was not meant to be intermittent, limited to the time of Mass and Holy Communion, that it is hard to believe that Christians who truly recognised this presence in their midst can ever have conceived otherwise.  Perhaps we may draw the lesson that if the fulness of understanding were long delayed in so plain a matter, it is not surprising that in other dogmas and practices which justify themselves less obviously, there may be developments in the Church’s teaching not suspected or at least not clearly apprehended by our forefathers in the faith.

As things are, no devout Catholic would wish to be deprived of the privilege of drawing near to our Saviour in the Tabernacle and making Him the daily confidant of hopes and fears, of joys and troubles.  But what distresses many pious souls is that having Him ready and willing to listen they should so often find themselves tongue-tied in His presence.  The set forms of prayer which they know by heart are worn threadbare by routine, and books too often prove stiff and artificial.  The heart has many wants and longings, but hardly knows how to put them into words.  In such a case real help, I think, is likely to be found in this very miscellaneous collection of musings, self-arraignments, out-pourings of spirit, to which the authoress has given the apt name of Coram Sanctissimo, “in the presence of the Most Holy.” They are not intended to be taken in rotation, or to be used every day, but there are times when a troubled worshipper, turning over the leaves, may light upon something here which will chime in with his mood and will make the task of prayer more easy to him.  And if for one or another the thoughts of this little book may serve to break the ice and to render the soul for the nonce more at home in that holy presence, I feel sure that the authoress will consider the labour spent in writing it to have been abundantly repaid.

It will be noticed that in the pages which follow verse finds a place as well as prose. It would not be fair to let this go forth to the world without stating that it has been written, so to speak, under protest, and that without strong encouragement Mother Mary Loyola would hardly have suffered it to see the light.  Although the verses are perhaps unequal, I do not in any way repent the share I have had in urging the writer to let them stand.  It would have been worth a greater risk of failure and a longer expenditure of time to have secured even a few such happy lines as may be read for instance in the chapter headed “In Silence and in Hope,” describing St. Mary Magdalen:—

She came with her crushing memories,
She came with her secret fears,
She brought Him her hidden misery
And her bitter, burning tears.

Or again:—

Absorbed in her loving ministries
She knelt at His feet apart,
The scandal of every eye save one
That soundeth the secret heart.  

The verses at best are only an experiment.  They were written in each case for the sake of the thought, not of the metrical form, and if the authoress could have found, as she long endeavoured to do, any suitable religious poetry which expressed kindred ideas, and which would have afforded that variety which is meant to be characteristic of this little booklet, she would have been glad, I know, to escape the seeming presumption of appearing as a writer of verse.  But I do not think that the many friends who use and appreciate Mother Loyola’s Confession and Communion and her other devotional books will be disappointed in anything which may meet their eye in this new effort of her pen.

Herbert Thurston, S.J.
11th September, 1900



Thank you so much to St. Augustine Academy Press for cooperating with this endeavor! If you are interested in this or other works by Mother Mary Loyola (as well as many other great books for spiritual growth and meditation), please check out their website.You will find many wonderful treasures from which to choose!

One thought on “Eucharistic Adoration: The Development of a Devotion”

  1. Wonderful preface – and who wouldn’t love the inclusion of verse (although I may be a wee bit partial)? I’m looking forward to having this as part of my Lenten practice and learning. Thanks Vicki!


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