ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) — In the Washington area, silence is an elusive thing. Helicopters roar overhead, car horns blare and music plays.
But after the din of the day subsides, the world grows quieter.
It’s in these overnight hours, when most Virginians are sleeping, that Weldon Barry said she finds her serenity at the adoration chapel of her parish.
“It’s just wonderful, just the calmness,” said Barry, a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Winchester.
Many parishes in the Arlington diocese have offered extended adoration hours during the pandemic. However, Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of just a few diocesan parishes, along with Our Lady of Angels Parish in Woodbridge, that have been able to maintain perpetual adoration throughout the pandemic.
At a time when Mass attendance is still capacity-limited, adoration offers parishioners a chance to spend more time in church. And that time has helped in other ways, said Father Bjorn Lundberg, pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“So many good things happen at Sacred Heart, and I would attribute it to the fact we have had 25 years of adoration,” the priest said. “There’s a strong culture of going to the sacrament of reconciliation because they spend quiet time with him in the monstrance.
“They just live the sacraments much more intensely, much more richly because of that time in front of the Blessed Sacrament,” he said.
Adoration has been held at the Sacred Heart of Jesus chapel perpetually since Aug. 22, 1995. The pandemic was certainly a challenge to that record, but the parish was able to continue this devotion through creative means.
“We had to be careful, but we didn’t have to shut down adoration at night if it was doable,” the priest said.
In normal times, Sacred Heart’s chapel could hold about 15 people at a time. But, to limit the number of people in that small space, adoration was moved to the main church at the onset of the pandemic.
At night, Father Lundberg would take the monstrance into the rectory and place it in the rectory chapel window.
People would park their cars in front of that window and pray at their scheduled times from the parking lot, the priest told the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.
“There were a few weeks where it got difficult to cover,” he said. “At night we’d have the Blessed Sacrament exposed (in the rectory chapel) and I would sleep in there to make sure adoration was covered.”
Since those times, adoration has resumed in the Sacred Heart chapel and, for the most part, it’s business as usual.
Father Lundberg said he’s grateful to be pastor of a church where there is such a commitment to adoration and said there is “a real culture of that personal relationship with Christ in adoration.”
Father Paul Scalia, pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church, said the pandemic had an unexpected spiritual effect. As public Masses were suspended, he said many parishioners found other ways to deepen their prayer lives.
“I think people came to a greater appreciation just of the means of grace that are available to them outside of the Mass,” he said. “We increased our times for confession and adoration, which are two means of grace. People would keep going to confession regularly even though they had no opportunities to receive holy Communion.”
While some parishes increased their non-Mass offerings during the pandemic, others had to cut back.
Father Lundberg said frequent adoration helps people “know that presence” of the Lord in their lives.
“Thinking of all the times in history, we need this more than ever so people can come spend time with him, be loved by him, and charge their batteries,” he said. “Anything you can do to promote adoration I just think is going to provide blessings on individuals and families in the parish.”
Barry has been going to adoration for more than 20 years and said that regular commitment has improved her prayer life.
“You’ve probably heard your whole life about when things are so overwhelming in your life, you just have to stand back and give them to God,” she said. “Adoration will teach you that in most circumstances in your life, be they good, bad or indifferent, learning how to give it to God … makes things, all of a sudden, become very manageable.”
Riedl is a multimedia producer at the Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Arlington.