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Eucharistic adoration for children

There is no doubt that most Catholic adults can understand and appreciate how beneficial time spent in adoration is for their souls. What they may not have considered is how much it can mean to children. In 1996 Pope John Paul II said, "I urge priests, religious and lay people to continue and redouble their efforts to teach the younger generations the meaning and value of eucharistic adoration and devotion. How will young people be able to know the Lord if they are not introduced to the mystery of His presence?"

Children are actually more inclined than adults to approach the Blessed Sacrament with full faith and trust in the mystery before them. In their innocence and purity, they accept that Jesus is really present somehow in the monstrance and that they are exceptionally blessed to be able to kneel before the King of Kings. But they need someone to get them there.

With all the things we do and all the places we go each week, making time for adoration with children may seem utterly impossible. It's enough to make sure that everyone has clean clothes and matching shoes to get out the door every Sunday. How in the world can we add one more thing? Adoration is prayer and the same holds true for it as for all other prayer: The more you pray, the more time you have to pray.

Eucharistic adoration with children is worth the effort. Father Antoine Thomas, whose ministry, "Children of Hope," has brought children's Holy Hours to parishes worldwide, writes:

"After many years of leading Holy Hours for children, I can tell you the benefits are numerous for both children and their families:

1. Children who previously had only the weekly experience of Mass discover that the host is actually the person of Jesus, mysteriously hidden.

2. They develop a greater interest in the mysteries of our faith and the liturgy of the Mass.

3. They understand - more than other children of their age who have not experienced eucharistic adoration - the relationship between the gift of the eucharistic presence of Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross out of love for mankind.

4. They become much more aware of the various degrees of sin and seem very eager to receive the sacrament of confession often.

5. Families accompanying their children witness a growing desire for peace and forgiveness within the family."

Those are pretty substantial returns on your investment of an hour (or even less than a half hour for very young children). Ideally, parishes will offer opportunities for children to adore. Father Antoine's apostolate, childrenofhope.org, offers very concrete guidance in establishing a parish program. In the absence of a parish program, however, don't avoid the adoration chapel.

Certainly, older children can be guided through a half hour of prayer in a chapel. Print a "cheat sheet" for them to keep whispering to a minimum. Encourage your children to be attentive to God's voice - this isn't study hall; reading should prompt prayer. They can follow the classic ACTS format for prayer.

A: Adore. Tell God you adore Him, but even more, sit and be awed. Take Him in just as you would a work of art.

C: Contrition. Briefly examine your conscience, express sorrow and beg forgiveness of your sins.

T: Thanksgiving. Count your blessings. Thank God for every single one.

S: Supplication. Tell God what your heart desires. Beg for His mercy and goodness.

Then sit still and open your soul to what God is telling you. Prayer isn't always talking to God.

Listening to God is truly fruitful prayer and children need encouragement to cultivate that habit of prayer. Most school-aged children can manage a half hour structured this way without being at all intrusive to other people who might be in the chapel.

Toddlers and preschoolers are another story. This is where a program like the Children of Hope program is very helpful. Without such a program, though, ask the person who organizes adoration to suggest times when the chapel is usually not too full. That person can even check with a perpetual adorer who is scheduled in advance of your visit.

Start very small. Before you go, teach your children how to double genuflect in front of the monstrance and become "very small before Jesus." Then they can pray a Hail Mary, an Our Father, a Glory Be and end with the divine praises. If your children will be quiet for a few moments, kneel in silent prayer. If not, leave the chapel knowing that you've acquired abundant graces in that short ten minute visit. What a great gift for a child to receive regularly at such a tender age and how pleased our Lord must be when we let the little children come!

Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. Her Web site is elizabethfoss.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010