Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament of Holy Communion (see Communion, like no other). Consecrated bread and wine become the true, literal body and blood of Christ preserving only their former appearance. This is what Jesus taught at the last supper and we do not doubt Him!
At Mass we are in the direct presence of our Lord and have the opportunity to speak to Him through prayer – or just to listen. His literal presence makes this distinctly different than when we pray elsewhere. For this reason parishioners come to Mass early, or stay after, for additional prayer in His presence in the tabernacle (where the undistributed Eucharist is reserved between Masses).
Many Catholic churches offer Eucharistic Adoration where the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance — a special cross that holds and displays the Eucharist at its center. Many of those parishes have small chapels for this purpose, as does mine. Parishioners go there for quiet prayer, reflection or inspirational reading in Jesus’ direct presence.
It is highly fitting that Christ should have wanted to remain present to his Church in this unique way. Since Christ was about to take his departure from his own in his visible form, he wanted to give us his sacramental presence; since he was about to offer himself on the cross to save us, he wanted us to have the memorial of the love with which he loved us “to the end,” even to the giving of his life. In his Eucharistic presence he remains mysteriously in our midst as the one who loved us and gave himself up for us, and he remains under signs that express and communicate this love:
The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease. — John Paul II
Parishes with Adoration go to significant effort to insure someone is always with our Lord. To that end parishioners sign-up as Adoration Guardians for specific hours at all times throughout the day and night. Some hours are committed by individuals while others may be covered by a group of people.
The guys at my Men’s Fellowship table have signed up for Thursday mornings from 3:00am to 4:00am. Some have the honor regularly while others may offer as needed. Since one of the Lenten suggestions is increased prayer, I signed up for yesterday morning (my first time).
I went to bed early but it was still a small struggle to wake up at 2:20am! There was a very light rain, but virtually no traffic so the trip took little time. Outside the adoration chapel is a large sign reminding passers-by of adoration and asking for silence. A table holds a log book for guardians which I signed.
Inside the door are holy water fonts and sufficient space to genuflect before taking a seat (the chapel seats up to 35). There were 3 other people there when I arrived. Two, including Trish whom I know, were covering the prior hour and left after a while. The chapel itself is small, very quiet, beautifully designed and appointed.
For a few minutes I just took it all in, rested and focused. It is very peaceful and easy to pray. Without rush or distractions, and in the close presence of our Lord, prayer felt deeper and more personal than usual. It was easier to both express myself and to discern guidance.
After praying, I read a short article on the Luminous Mysteries (The “Mysteries of Light” introduced by Pope John Paul II in 2002). Then, surprisingly, it was 4:00am. It is always amazing to me how fast time passes when praying and studying.
Tony had arrived for an hour he was covering by then, so I left and returned home. The clock read 4:30am when I turned the light off – about two hours after waking up. As I again laid in bed, in the darkness, I suddenly sensed a taste in my mouth. I recognized it as the faint taste of communion wine. Non-believers have all manner of ways to dismiss such, but I believe God speaks to, and encourages us, in many ways.