THE EUCHARISTIC ADORATION OF ÓSCAR ROMERO
The wire dispatches reporting Archbishop Romero’s assassination during Mass highlighted the fact that, “The Mass is the central act of worship in the Catholic Church and Christ is believed to be present during the sacrament of Communion, or the Holy Eucharist, which is consecrated during Mass.” (ASSOCIATED PRESS, Archbishop Assassinated, March 25, 1980.) Archbishop Romero’s martyrdom at the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy was poignant given his devotion to the Eucharist. (See, William T. CAVANAUGH, Dying for the Eucharist or Being Killed by It: Romero’s Challenge to First-World Christians, THEOLOGY TODAY, July 2001.) He had regularly observed a “Holy Hour” of Eucharistic adoration in the Hospital Chapel where he was killed, “which he did with a lot of fervor, eloquence and profundity,” according to Sister Luz Isabel Cueva, who was the Superior of the nuns who ran the Hospital. (Las hermanas del Hospitalito recuerdan a Monseñor [The Sisters of Hospitalito Remember Monseñor], Carta a las Iglesias, Year XX, Nº.443-444, February 1-29, 2000.)
Inviting the faithful to join the Eucharistic adoration, Archbishop Romero explained its spiritual and dogmatic importance: “we are able to make an act of faith before the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and offer our prayers for the great needs of our families, our nation, and the Church.” (January 1, 1978 Homily.) For Archbishop Romero, the act of faith was deeply intertwined with another important Christian virtue: “At the same time we are able to perform an act of charity; one that is referred to in the Catechism as an act of mercy—namely, we are able to visit the sick and participate in a work that is not simply a name but rather a reality—that is, we are able to participate in this work of Divine Providence.” (Ibid.) Sister Luz Isabel recalled that, after or before the Holy Hour, Romero would go visit the patients and he would say to them, “You are the Suffering Christ and your bed is the Cross.” (Cartas, supra.)
Throughout his priestly life, Óscar Romero maintained a devout commitment to the sacramental and interior life of the soul, which he coupled with external action in solidarity. For example, while he was a priest in the San Miguel province of El Salvador,
[h]e visited the countryside and the city jails. He organized catechism classes and first communions. He promoted the Legion of Mary, the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, Alcoholics Anonymous, Catholic Action, the Cursillos de Cristiandad, the Apostleship of Prayer, the Guardians of the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Rosary Association, the Third Order of St. Francis, and the diocesan branch of Caritas, which distributes food to the poor. He saw to it that Caritas also taught the people about nutrition. “He was always concerned with the whole person's welfare,” said a woman who worked with him for years in various activities in San Miguel.(James R. BROCKMAN, S.J., Oscar Romero: A Life, Orbis, New York, 1999, p. 40.)
In the earliest years of his priesthood, Óscar Romero understood that his faith needed to generate impacts in the worldly life of his parishioners to be authentic. “We have grown accustomed to seeing religion as a thing of the sacristy and processions and scapulars,” he lamented three years into his priestly life: “we have not been taught that religion is life ... because it encompasses every human sentiment and is capable of solving all the problems of history.” (O.A. Romero, Para el Centenario del Seminario [For the Seminary’s Centennial], CHAPARRASTIQUE No. 1554, pgs.. 1 & 4, January 19, 1945, available here—in Spanish.)
Therefore, Archbishop Romero’s Eucharistic adoration at the Divine Providence Chapel married the two aspects of his ministry—faith and charity. “We celebrate,” he proclaimed: “the faith that has brought us here together ... [E]ither standing as a sign of respect or on knee as a sign of adoration, [the faithful] affirm that before their eyes, under the appearance of bread and wine is the body and the blood of Christ, truly, really and substantially present.” (June 17, 1979 Homily.) The Eucharist symbolizes, he preached, sacrifice and Communion. “The nourishment that Christ gives us is love ... It is like the family setting where a mother, even though poor, breaks the bread and shares this one bread with her children who are seated around the family table of unity.” (Id.)
On June 20-24, 2011, the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome is hosting an academic conference on Eucharistic adoration, focusing on the rediscovery of the practice. According to press reports surrounding the conference, Eucharistic adoration was seen as a teaching tool to reaffirm the doctrine of the “real presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, as Archbishop Romero preached, and John Paul II’s final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), and Pope Benedict XVI’s teachings, have encouraged a return to the practice.