FOLLOW UP: McBrien’s “rather adolescently rigid” article… NCR readers react!

Notre Dame’s Richard McBrien says that "Eucharistic adoration, perpetual or not, is a doctrinal, theological, and spiritual step backward, not forward."

You can read his sneering NCR article if you want or read it with my commentary HERE.

A WDTPRS reader was looking at the comments over at NCR and noted that even the liberal comments over there are turning against McBrian’s flawed ideas!

Let’s see a few, as gathered by reader AT (my emphases and comments):

I generally enjoy Fr. McBrien’s postings, but I have to disagree with him this time…I do agree that the Mass is the center of our Catholic life, but Adoration provides a context for meditation and prayer that I find to be most helpful. I do not believe it to be an obsolete devotion, but one very relevant in today’s hectic and off-centered world. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
Nick Marziani

Father McBrien, I never expected to disagree with you on much of anything…but I do need to question several aspects of this column on eucharistic adoration. First, I have to wonder whether you, like many other progressive Catholics, view every pronouncement from Rome on current liturgy as a threat to the spirit of Vatican II–indeed, as an intentional inroad in that direction. If so, I have to tell you that I find your attitude rather adolescently rigid. [OORAH!]
Maggie Harrison Mangan


Eucharistic adoration at the parish level arose out of nowhere at the end of the 20th Century. Nobody planned it. Nobody foresaw it. I believe it was an authentic movement of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church.  [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]
Kevin Aldrich


Dear Fr. McBrien, Did it ever even cross your mind that the Holy Spirit might be encouraging people towards this devotion, that it might not be simply a symptom of their backwardness or spiritual immaturity? If it were just an initiative of the people, without God’s help, it would not have taken the root it has and would not be spreading as it is[yep]


Dear Fr. McBrien, I consider myself a progressive Catholic like yourself. I love the way the Mass is celebrated now rather than before Vatican II. I wish the Church would allow qualified lay people to preach at the time reserved for the homily. I favor ordaining women as deacons and priests. I hope that someday married, baptized Catholic men will be allowed in the priesthood and I don’t look forward to the new Mass translations that our Bishops had to approve at their June plenary session. However, Fr. McBrien, I must strongly disagree with your negative attitude about the Holy Father encouraging the restoration of Eucharistic adoration…Because of the large crop of faithful lay volunteers, my parish has Eucharistic adoration 24 hours every Friday of the week, which is attended by hundreds of parishioners (3000 families are registered in my parish) and even non-parishioners throughout the day and evening. Yes, celebrating the Eucharist each Sunday with the Catholic community should be the highest form of worship in a Catholic’s prayer life. But you see, Father McBrien, Catholics like myself are craving for some individual quiet time with Jesus too…That’s why it’s so important for Catholic churches to keep their doors open at least once during the weekday to allow some quiet prayer time for parishioners.
A literate catholic


I usually agree with Fr. McBrien’s views; in this instance, however, I part company…the sheer tone of Fr. McBrien’s column and various statements, such as "devotional excess" and "extraneous eucharistic devotions" make him sound like an over educated, pompous, theologically intellectual elitist, which I hope he is not.  [If it walks like an "over educated, pompous, theologically intellectual elitist…".]
Kate Gile


Dear Fr. O’Brien, While I appreciate your columns very much, I disagree with your final sentence in this piece, as would contemplatives everywhere. The Real Presence in the Mass does "provide all" that is needed, but the Mystery is inexhaustible and some in the Body of Christ feel compelled to extend worship beyond the actual time of the Eucharistic celebration. To say that there is "no need for extraneous eucharistic devotions" seems similar to debunking intimate friendship, being in love, the time "wasted" by lovers for whom simply communing is a value in itself.

Many thanks to AT, who gathered these great comments from NCR and that "over educated, pompous, theologically intellectual elitist", and "rather adolescently rigid" article by McBrien. 

Hey!  Their words, not mine!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Fr. John Mary says:

    This is excellent. No more be said.

  2. Jayna says:

    “I find your attitude rather adolescently rigid.”

    Truer words were never spoken. Or typed.

  3. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Eucharistic adoration at the parish level arose out of nowhere at the end of the 20th Century. Nobody planned it. Nobody foresaw it. I believe it was an authentic movement of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church. – Kevin Aldrich

    I must agree with Mr. Aldrich. Eucharistic Adoration burst forth from the tomb where a generation of progressives sealed it, borne on the shoulders of folks of whom no one took notice.

    It is truly one of the most authentic groundswells of liturgical renewal I have ever personally witnessed. I am repeatedly brought to tears and driven to my knees and wherever I have seen this devotion. Good bless these little ones.

    FYI, in the midst of the chaos following 9/11, a forest of signs grew around the wreckage of the World Trade Center directing various crews to their assembly points. Amidst all of them, one small sign pointed to St. Peter’s Catholic Church (and it’s Tabernacle). The sign read “Body of Christ” with an arrow underneath.

  4. Bill in Texas says:

    “I find your attitude rather adolescently rigid.” Bravo! To borrow a phrase: ROFL!!!!!!!!!

    And, it must be said, Eucharistic Adoration is not the only target that certain people would like to see go away. Marian devotion is frequently cited as another “outdated” practice.

  5. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Small correction on the 9/11 story, which was related by Fr. Jim Martin, S.J.:

    I tell the story in Searching for God at Ground Zero that the first Mass we had was on the weekend following the attack. We were all at a very small dust-covered table with the chalice, the paten, and the bread and the wine on top of it and we celebrated Mass. There were quite a few firefighters and police officers gathered around.

    After the Mass, we had distributed communion to all of the firefighters who were coming up to us. A lot of them were falling to their knees in the middle of the ash and the dust. It was very poignant to see these people who were needless to say extremely busy and taking time out of their day for some sort of spiritual sustenance.

    I also tell the story that around the site there were signs placed everywhere. Some signs would say “Eye Wash Station”, “Morgue”, “Glass”, or “Danger.” After we had celebrated Mass, we moved to the side and were distributing communion, when someone placed a huge sign next to the altar that said “Body of Christ” on a big wooden plank, spray-painted in orange letters.

  6. Tominellay says:

    Never thought I’d look forward to receiving this week’s TIDINGS (Los Angeles Archdiocese), wondering if McBrien will be carried, as he usually is, because I really think that the Letters to the Editor will overflow next week in negative reaction to him. Really, who will defend this column?

  7. ray from mn says:

    Surely this is God showing us an opening towards a healing of the divisions between liberal and conservative Catholics.

    All those conservative parishes that have adoration now should be seeking and inviting adorers from among the liberals in their communities. And where liberal or progressive parishes have adoration, why then conservatives should volunteer to fill some of the times.

    And the coordinators should occasionally meet to discuss what works and what doesn’t work.

  8. Amy MEV says:

    Wow! I never thought the day would come when FR.Z quoted NCR readers in a positive light! Should we be checking on the temperature in hell?

  9. Erring Old Testament priests worshiped Baal, so who is McBrien’s Baal?

  10. Thomas S says:

    Yeah, it’s amusing seeing them turn on their own (it is the history of Protestantism after all). However, their comments are still less than edifying, “You’re wrong on this, Father. I agree with every other heresy you spew, just not this one.”


  11. thomas tucker says:

    McBrien has a worldview, and he is willing to overlook the facts to make life fit this worldview.
    The facts are that devotions outside of Mass enhance people’s spirituality, rather than detract from it.
    They encourage growth in holiness, rather than retard it.
    And they bear more fruit for the world than does Mass attendance alone.

  12. There is nothing more beautiful than watching people respond faithfully to the Truth.

    And I think people are right in saying that Adoration is a road to unity. Nothing like getting our knees all pointed in the same direction….

  13. romancrusader says:

    I say that McBrien and his ilk have sophmoric notion of God.

  14. patrick_f says:

    “There is nothing more beautiful than watching people respond faithfully to the Truth.”

    I would take it one step further, there is nothing more beautiful then watching the Holy Spirit work through people.

    I always tell people, the spirit moves all of us, sometimes he has to kick us in the behind. I would suggest possibly the latter is happening for individuals such as Fr Mcbrien

  15. JPG says:

    Pompous overeducated intellectual elitist indeed. His article falls slightly short of referring to Eucharistic adoration as cookie worship. In short it comes close in my mind to heresy. I have not had the time to see how much of the Council of Trent this contradicts but there must be a some degree of contradiction. What is truly refreshing is to hear that some self described liberals take issue with his comments. There is hope for these people after all!

  16. Scelata says:

    “I have to wonder whether you, like many other progressive Catholics, view every pronouncement from Rome on current liturgy as a threat”

    As it is childish to be blindly obedient, it is typically adolescent to be blindly disobedient.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  17. Clinton says:

    It is instructive to note that the works of Fr. McBrien , as ridden as they are with factual and logical error, do not figure in serious
    theology studies. His work is scorned by his peers, in much the same way as the New American Bible translation is shunned by biblical scholars. His career is a sad combination of shoddy work coupled with rather brilliant self-promotion. In short, the man is a hack.

  18. Melody says:

    This certainly gives me some hope. I was worried that this man’s ideas were more held by the “progressive” community. It is a great relief to find that even they find this ridiculous, if not abhorrent.

  19. albizzi says:

    It is impossible to quote the names of the saints who practised and still are practising the daily Eucharistic adoration, so numerous they were and still are today (St Therese de Lisieux, Padre Pio, Margaret-Mary, etc…) . All showed this brought them amazing graces.
    But Fr Mc Brien does as if they never existed and so I doubt he ever read the Life of the Saints, although the Church strongly recommends it. That’s apalling for such a well know and prominent catholic writer and preacher and it disqualifies all what he dared to say on that issue.
    One must know that the parishes where the Eucharistic Adoration is perpetual (yes, day & night at least one person is in adoration) are showing an increase in devotion, in mass attendance and even in sacerdotal vocations.

    (sorry that’s a French website)

  20. marcolanscomo says:

    The NCR commenters echoed my own initial reactions in many ways.

    First (as Fr Z pointed out in his post), the undeniable fruits of Adoration rather undermine any complaints that it’s a “spiritual step backwards”.

    And secondly Fr McBrien doesn’t seem to have a very strong sense of the Holy Spirit’s work and guidance in the Church. As an aside, I think the same could be said of many critics of the liturgy’s evolution over the centuries, who are over-quick to label developments as “excrescence”, “decadence”, “excess”, “accretions”. Pope Benedict seemed keen to correct this in Sacramentum Caritatis:

    “3. If we consider the bimillenary history of God’s Church, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can gratefully admire the orderly development of the ritual forms in which we commemorate the event of our salvation. … The…Synod of Bishops…gratefully acknowledged the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this rich history.”

  21. albizzi says:

    Every “step backward” the so-called “Spirit of VATII” (nobody could explain me the sense of this hollow expression) is welcome.

  22. eyeclinic says:

    But can’t we at least pray for him?

  23. The Astronomer says:

    McBrien’s ‘enlightened and mature’ theology resonates with the offal I was taught in religion classes at CUA back in the early 80s, which an astute Presbyterian friend distilled down to “the sun is shining, the grass is green and I feel pretty good about Christ.”

  24. robtbrown says:

    The comments indicate that Fr McBrien is simply out of touch. He is still operating in the 1970’s aftermath of the Woodstock idiom, when liturgy was an occasion for a group hug.

    Even thought the present generation might be doctrinally liberal, nevertheless, it is very individualistic and always defends individualism.

    Eucharistic Adoration is an individual act.

  25. Rob Cartusciello says:

    As a former scholastic who suffered greatly under the pop psychology regime of the 90’s, “rigid” was one of the cruelest labels an AmChurch Catholic could slap on you.

    I am chagrined to see McBrien hoisted by his own petard.

  26. robtbrown says:

    McBrien’s ‘enlightened and mature’ theology resonates with the offal I was taught in religion classes at CUA back in the early 80s, which an astute Presbyterian friend distilled down to “the sun is shining, the grass is green and I feel pretty good about Christ.”
    Comment by The Astronomer

    Good stuff.

    I wonder whether the mentality of people like Fr McBrien is the result of carrying pre Vat II psychological baggage (to use Fr Z’s excellent phrase)–or whether they’re just looking for an excuse to be a spiritual slob.

    It’s sort of like eating a gallon of cherry chocolate chip ice cream at one sitting, then saying that it contained two of the main food groups.

  27. Greg Smisek says:

    JPG said: In short it comes close in my mind to heresy.

    Not just close — Father McBrien made heretical gaffs in his article similar to the unfortunate expressions that Fr. Zuhlsdorf recently pointed out in the New Zealand Maori acclamations.

    Putting aside Fr. McBrien’s attempt to differentiate between “literal,” “physical,” and “sacramental,” he states that “the bread and the wine retain the properties of bread and wine” after the sacramental change has occurred and that “the bread and wine may still appear to be bread and wine, but in the course of the Eucharistic Prayer (formerly called the Canon of the Mass) they have been changed sacramentally, not literally or physically, into the body and blood of Christ.” In both instances, he refers to the bread and wine as existing after the sacramental change, which they do not. He appears to be advancing some sort of consubstantiation or, more likely, no substantial presence of Christ in the Sacrament at all.

  28. albizzi says:

    I suggest a one night Eucharistic Adoration with rosaries prayed so that the Holy Spirit may enlighten Fr Mc Brien on this very spiritually fruitful practice.

  29. Sword40 says:

    I really don’t have much respect for priests or anyone else for that matter that behave in a pompous “windbag” manner. In fact, at first glance I would never have identified Fr. McBrien as a priest.

    I try not to follow thing to do with U. of Notre Dame or their ilk.

  30. Fr Kimel says:

    I left the following comment on the NCR blog:

    Fr McBrien’s article is so very, very bad it is hard to know where to begin. McBrien argues that eucharistic adoration must be understood as a “step backward,” but at no point does he offer an argument. The failure to offer real argument needs to be emphasized. McBrien tells us that Catholics believe that the eucharistic transformation is sacramental, not literal or physical. The intimation is that eucharistic devotion is dependent upon an improper and deficient understanding of the real presence. But this is false. For one thing, I do not know what Fr McBrien means when he says that the eucharistic change is not “literal.” Surely it is in fact a *literal* change, a change in the order of being. Bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ and are no longer–literally–bread and wine. The species are not metaphorically Christ; they literally are Christ. McBrien is correct to note that the change is not physical or chemical. It is not a change that any scientist or empiricist would be able to detect. But it is a real change, nonetheless. Bread and wine have become the Body and Blood; they have become the risen Christ. To say that the change is “sacramental” only tells us that we are not to understand the change in a grossly materialistic or chemical fashion; but it most certainly does not call into question the primary assertion, viz., the bread and have have truly, really, and substantially become the Body and Blood.

    This is the question that I put before Fr McBrien: Do you in fact believe that the consecrated elements are the Body and Blood of Christ? I am sure that he would answer, yes, just as any good Episcopalian or Calvinist would, so let me posit a second question to test his affirmative answer: Are you willing to pray to and prostrate yourself before the consecrated elements *within* the eucharistic liturgy? Before we can address the propriety of eucharistic adoration *outside* the liturgy, we must first address the question of adoration *within* the liturgy. This is the practical test that separates Catholic faith from all forms of Zwinglianism. Others in this thread have noted that the Eastern Orthodox do not practice eucharistic adoration outside the Divine Liturgy, but they have ignored the fact that the Orthodox have no reservations whatsoever about adoring the eucharistic Christ within the Liturgy. This adoration is powerfully enacted in their Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified, in which worshippers will often prostrate themselves before the Holy Gifts.

    It is wrong to posit a conflict between the purpose of the eucharistic change–namely, Christ becomes our food; he becomes present that we might feed upon him–and the propriety of adoration. Precisely because our Lord objectively becomes our food he is now objectively present as an object of our adoration. There is no conflict here. Just ask St Thomas Aquinas. While it is true that extra-liturgical veneration of the Blessed Sacrament does not appear in the history of the Church until the 12th century (to which I can only respond, so what?), adoration of the Blessed Sacrament within the liturgy is much earlier. At least as early as the 9th century the celebrant of the Sarum rite would pray to the Host: “Hail forever, most holy flesh of Christ, to me before all and above all the greatest sweetness.” And as early as the 6th century in Syria, the celebrant was instructed to speak these words to the consecrated bread:

    “I carry you, living God, who is incarnate in the bread, and I embrace you in my palms, Lord of the worlds whom no world has contained. You have circumscribed yourself in a fiery coal within a fleshly palm–you Lord, who with your palm measured out the dust of the earth. You are holy, God incarnate in my hands in a fiery coal which is a body. See, I hold you, although there is nothing that contains you; a bodily hand embraces you, Lord of natures whom a fleshly womb embraced. Within a womb you became a circumscribed body, and now within a hand you appear to me as a small morsel.”

    Until very recently, all Catholics understood, believed, and confessed the real eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ and adored him in the Blessed Sacrament. Until very recently …

  31. lome says:

    Even Liberal Readers at NCR reject stance of Notre Dame’s Mcbrien. …

    Jesus is the God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Adoration is all about Jesus to Jesus, all around Jesus? What is so backward about that?

    “Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein.” (Psalm 69:34)

    We may not yet understand the full purpose of God in creation, but at least one aspect of that purpose is that all things created should somehow praise their Creator. This theme occurs often in Scripture, especially in the psalms. For example, in addition to the exhortation in our text:

    “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).

    “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and the fullness’ thereof. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the LORD: for he cometh” (Psalm 96:11-13).

    “All thy works shall praise thee, O LORD; and thy saints shall bless thee” (Psalm 145:10).

    “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. . . . Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word: Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl” (Psalm 148:3-4,7-10).

    The Lord Jesus said that if men should refuse to praise Him and “should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” (Luke 19:40). Yet even though the whole creation–in its beauty, complexity, and providential orderliness–gives continual praise to its Creator, men perversely have “worshipped and served the creature |or more aptly stated, the creation| more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever” (Romans 1:25).

    How poignant, therefore, is the final verse of the book of Psalms: “Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).

    Let us pray to God that in our old days, we don’t succumb to Satan’s snares.

  32. lome says:


    The great modern encyclicals on sacred scriptures (Provindentissimus Deus,Spiritus Paraclitus and Divino Afflante Spiritu )stress the need for catholic biblical scholars
    To use the church’s Fathers in their study and teaching of scriptures. They remind biblical scholars that the Fathers, by virtue of their holiness, learning and office in the church are supreme models.Providentissimus Deus especially emphasizes how the Fathers remained unswervingly obedient to the magisterium and avoided a fondness for novelty in their study of sacred Scripture. They treated the Bible with the reverence it deserved as the inspired inerrant word of God.

    Some modern commentaries hardly mention the Father except to disparage their studies as pious but unscholarly and unscientific. These commentators demean or ignore the rich and profound spiritual insights of the Fathers while embracing and promoting the opinions of error-ridden dissidents as if they were oracles from heaven.

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