Fr. Richard McBrien: Another Baby Boomer Who Doesn’t Get It…Sorta

I must’ve been sleeping throughout September because this article crept past me by the esteemed Professor at Notre Dame Richard McBrien.

Notwithstanding Pope Benedict XVI’s personal endorsement of eucharistic adoration and the sporadic restoration of the practice in the archdiocese of Boston and elsewhere, it is difficult to speak favorably about the devotion today.

Now that most Catholics are literate and even well-educated, the Mass is in the language of the people (i.e, the vernacular), and its rituals are relatively easy to understand and follow, there is little or no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions. The Mass itself provides all that a Catholic needs sacramentally and spiritually.

Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward.

McBrien is showing his crotchety old demeanor here and is a good example of someone who throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Especially amongst the young eucharistic adoration has become a practice that many have found to be worthy of their time. The larger question that most baby boomer Catholics don’t ask is why? If I had a dime for every baby boomer campus minister who gets alarmed at the fact that young people are choosing to do this devotion, I’d be a rich man.

Send your dimes ASAP by the way.

So why are young people liking this particular devotion more and more? It is not out of literalism, but more out of a need for contemplation, tangibility and belonging.

1) Contemplation: In a world filled with noise where a moment’s peace is never found, why would we not be surprised to find young adults flocking to a place where they can simply have one hour of peace to clear out the cobwebs? By the way the last time i checked the Eucharist was in fact, the source and summit of our faith. So again why are we surprised that young people flock to a moment’s peace with the central element of our faith visible to them?

2) Tangibility: The Eucharist is tangible. Jesus understood this better than anyone. He provided us with a ritual that tells us that we. as Catholics do the hard things first. If we can indeed understand how GOD can unite with a piece of bread and a cup of wine and that when we consume it we remind ourselves of a presence within us that was already there, though hidden. If indeed when we are reminded of that WE are transformed, we become what we receive, then we are truly living the body and blood of Christ.

But sometimes that become route. We consume and do not transform. We eat but do not reflect. We receive but are not changed because we have no time to be mindful of what we are doing. We are off to the next thing to do and take no time to think about what we are doing then the Eucharist becomes another empty ritual (at least internally for us). Adoration provides that mindfulness that we often miss.

3) Belonging: When people leave the church they often point to the Eucharist as the thing they miss the most. It is the Eucharist that many consider the very essence of Catholicism.

And it is. Without the Eucharist we long for it. We consecrate more hosts to insure that people have access to it. We hold communion services and call them that because people want Christ in the Eucharist, that tangible reminder of Christ’s presence already within us. They may love scripture, but they want the Eucharist. And they miss it when it is not there.

Now I think Richard McBrien is far from a dumb man, and I can even appreciate his thought on the over-literalism that many take on when it comes to the Eucharist and even with adoration. But that is far from the norm and to lump most of those who practice Eucharistic Adoration into one boat is at best short sighted and at worst, prejudicial.

Join the Conversation


  1. I'm a Baby-Boomer and I think Eucharistic adoration adds a very great dimension to my spiritual life. How could it not? Spending time with Jesus "face-to-face", talking, just being together in a tangible way infuses me with His presence in a way that is important to me. Of course it isn't the Mass and doesn't replace it, it ADDS. And as a "literate and even well-educated" catholic man I need all the help Jesus can give me. Mark


  2. Via Facebook: Lauren Patterson writes:What he also forgets is that the Liturgy and the devotion are intimately and intrinsically connected, as Pope Benedict acknowledges, even if adoration doesn't take place chronologically/immediately after Mass. How can we not say, after receiving so great a gift, along with the disciples on the road to Emmaus,"Stay with us…(Lord)"? It is always a communal/ecclesial act, even if experienced in a deeply personal way. One does not exclude the other. The practice also gives us TIME in stark contrast to our cultural pace…time in which the seeds sown in the liturgy (and elsewhere) can take root and germinate. Afterall, don't we know a tree by its fruits? I would venture to guess those choosing this practice continue it because of those very fruits. Why argue to deprive God's people of something so penetrating and nourishing, which they seek?Thx Mike 🙂


  3. Via Facebook:Fr. Eric Andrews writes:Students got into it at UT/Knoxville! Of course, it was next to impossible to get anyone to sign up for specific times in advance (you know who you are!)… but The Lord was rarely left by Himself…


  4. Via Facebook:From David Dawson:Did not even read your essay. Just read his quote. I will pray for him. He definitely needs it. 3 things that have statistically shown to create vocations: 1) Eating dinner together 2)going to mass as a family 3)EUCHARIST ADORATION!I knew there was a reason beside the red sox that I never liked Boston.


  5. Via Facebook: From Mary Moore:I often like McBrien's comments but he is all wet on this one. I have received such peace and serenity and inspiration sitting with the Lord in this manner.


  6. Thanks for all the comments. As an addendum I will say this in defense of Fr McBrien. There is a HUGE problem with people who ONLY do adoration and don't go to mass. The most important thing we can do with the Eucharist is to become what we receive. And we can only do THAT if we actually receive it.


  7. Via Facebook: From Erin Oates:Excellent article…and I completely concur w/you about the contemplative aspects of Mass & Adoration as well as the Eucharist. As a convert, those were the very things that drew me to Catholicism. Thanks for a great reflection on this.


  8. This left of center, baby boomer Catholic is with you….yes, celebrate the Eucharist, receive and become and yes, make space for contemplative experiences in Christ's presence!


  9. Via Facebook: From: Connie Lane NeumanThe Age of Setting Up Straw Men to knock down. When will R. McBrien (and a lot of others) drop the time-wasting adversarial approach?


  10. Via Facebook:from Mary Sperry:The late Godfrey Diekmann had a wonderful quote: Eucharistic adoration is simply the action of the Mass held in contemplation. Also, Pope Paul VI wrote eloquently about the relationship of Eucharistic adoration to living a life of justice and integrity, caring for the Body of Christ both in the sacrament of the altar and in the world. It's when we lose the balance between these things that problems arise.


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