Dear Father John, I went to Adoration this morning with my prayer group. There weren’t too many of us, but I always have a feeling that there is too much talking during our Adoration, and I just don’t get the “purpose” of a “litany” (which we pray together during Adoration). Each time I hear a litany, repeating the same sentence 2 or 3 times gives me feeling of being brain washed. I don’t see any love coming out of this kind of prayer. I guess I am missing something. Could you explain it a little to me?
I detect two questions in your note. The first has to do with “too much talking” during Adoration, and the second has to do with the purpose of praying litanies. We will cover the Adoration question in this post and then we will provide a follow-up post on the litany question.
As regards Adoration, I think I understand what you mean. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is an intimate encounter with Christ, who is present in such a quiet but powerful way. Just as Jesus speaks silently to our hearts through the Eucharist, so we are drawn to listen and respond to him in the silence of our hearts. And indeed, when we take time for personal adoration, this really should be the dynamic at work. In that case, almost any extraneous noise ends up jarring or distracting us, even a group of people praying the Rosary, or an organist practicing with his ear phones on, so that the notes are only heard in a muffled way.
But sometimes, Adoration of the Blessed sacrament is linked to solemn exposition and solemn benediction. These ceremonies form part of the liturgy of the Church. An ordained minister must be present, and liturgical norms guide the celebration. Even when we are not present for exposition or benediction, sometimes we purposely link our Adoration time with others, whether fellow members of a Movement or prayer society, or even of a family.
In both these cases, our Adoration is no longer only a personal prayer. It has been plugged into the communal prayer of a group that tangibly expresses the reality of the Church, the Body of Christ. In this kind of Adoration, it is common practice to weave other forms of prayer and worship into the times of silent adoration. For example, there can be readings from the Bible and reflections on those readings, or even a homily (as when the Holy Father joins large gatherings of young people for prayer vigils that include Adoration). There can also be personal testimonies, and hymns, or the solemn, vocal recitation of the Rosary, a novena, or some other form of popular piety.
A Question of Expectations
If we expect communal Adoration to have the same personal intimacy and silence that personal Adoration has, we will be disappointed and distracted, and maybe even frustrated. Participation in this kind of Adoration involves a humble effort to enter into the prayer of the whole community, to link my personal preferences and prayers to the flow and rhythm of the larger group. This can be hard to do, especially when we feel that we don’t have as much time of silent, personal prayer as we need. But the rewards are great, because when we overcome personal preferences in order to enter into a larger act of worship, we are exercising the virtue of charity towards our neighbor. God is always pleased when the family gets together to praise and worship him; it is a powerful expression of the reality that he is reuniting a sin-divided world through the power of his saving grace.
As regards the particular form of prayer known as litany, I also fully understand your hesitance. When we repeat the same phrase or formula over and over again in our prayer, it can feel cold and superficial. Where is the personal touch, the intimacy, the sincerity of speaking to God right from the heart? Nevertheless, litanies have been part of our Christian tradition of prayer since the dawn of the Church, so there must be something to them. In our next post we will review three reflections that may help you pray litanies more fruitfully.
Yours in Christ, Fr John Bartunek, LC, ThD