The Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Christchurch has now been open for nine years. Perpetual Adoration means exactly that – the chapel is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because the Blessed Sacrament can never be left alone, someone must be in the chapel every hour during the week. Therefore, one of the challenges of keeping a chapel open is finding enough people to come in the middle of the night, every night of the week. By the grace of God, we have had enough people to do this for nine years, but it has not been easy. It seems crazy. Why would anyone want to want up in the middle of the night in the middle of winter and drive to a chapel to pray? I am one of these crazy people, waking up at 1.40am every Wednesday to arrive at the chapel for the 2am hour, and then getting back into bed at 3.15am and trying to go back to sleep until the children wake me at 6am. Why do I do it? Why does anyone do it? I want to share my personal story of why I choose to take on one of these night hours.
For me it goes back to the year I spent in a Franciscan Monastery in Chicago. When I arrived on September 1st, 2001 little did I know what I was in for. I was attracted to this Monastery, called Marytown, because they had had Perpetual Adoration for many years. I had been introduced to Adoration a couple of years earlier at the Hearts Aflame Catholic Summer School. As a volunteer we did all sorts of tasks in the Monastery. One of these was covering for the Friars in the Adoration Chapel when they went away. I soon discovered that the Friars took responsibility for covering the hours in the chapel between 11pm and 7am. I then discovered that the same Friar would do a holy hour every night of the week. I remember talking to one brother who had got up every night at 2am for 23 years! I found this hugely inspiring – especially since he was never grumpy, unlike me after one night a week!
So I started to cover various hours during the night and grew to love those quiet peaceful times in the middle of the night. The chapel at Marytown is a replica of St Paul’s outside the walls in Rome and it is stunningly beautiful, especially at night-time with the lights low and the hundreds of red votive candles flickering away.
When I left Marytown in late 2002, I carried within my heart a desire to one day see a Perpetual Adoration Chapel opened in Christchurch. 11 years later, the desire became a reality when Bishop Barry Jones opened the Diocesan Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St Gregory’s.
When the planning team was preparing to open the chapel, we thought that one of the biggest challenges would be filling the night hours. By the grace of God, initially, it wasn’t as difficult as we thought. As the leader of the planning team, I thought I should lead the way and signed up for Wednesday mornings at 3am. It was easy during the first year because my wife and I were yet to have children. When our first daughter was born in 2014, I decided I would take a break from adoring in the middle of the night for a few months.
For me, I find praying in the middle of the night a beautiful and peaceful time. Normally you are in the chapel by yourself and usually I manage to stay awake. I do find that if I go to bed first and then set my alarm, I am much more awake than if I take on a 12am hour and try stay awake. It also helps to have an understanding wife. People ask me if I get tired during the day. Generally, I don’t. I am not sure I could do it every night as the brothers did in Chicago. I remember doing 10 nights in a row at the 3am hour and I was an absolute wreck.
As the years have gone by, it has become much harder to find adorers for the middle of the night. Currently we have one Religious Brother who does 10 hours a week over night. Another adorer does 5 hours overnight a week. The religious brother is very elderly and we do need to ease the burden on him in the near future.
Over the past few years I have tried to find inspiring stories or quotes about adoring during the night to encourage people to give it a go. Often it just takes someone to give it a go to discover the beauty of adoring in the middle of the night. Here are a couple of testimonies from our overnight adorers.
“There is something very spiritually special about doing it (during the night), something about being still with the Lord in the middle of the night. It’s rather hard to describe; but nothing else is happening around me; the busy world is hushed. It’s just me and God. So I can feel Him close in the stillness of the night”.
“The stillness of the night. It is me and God alone. Just as the Gospel of Mark 1:35 recounts “It was very early in the morning and still dark. Jesus got up and left the house. He went to a place where he could be alone. There he prayed.” All of us who adore can relate to this beautiful, special time with Our Loving Father.
One adorer from overseas calls the overnight hours the “ironman hours – those brutal hours (which), in many ways are the hidden life blood of perpetual adoration”. This is an important point. Because adorers commit to these overnight hours, it allows the chapel to remain open, and then there is a place for anyone to come at whatever time they want. It is not uncommon for people pop in for a brief visit at all hours of the night. Just last night when I was in the chapel, a young adult popped in for 30 minutes. He had biked there while the temperature was -2 degrees. We have also heard of powerful testimonies of people going to the chapel in the middle of the night at times of crisis. No matter what is happening, no matter what time of the day or night, the chapel is open and the Lord is always waiting to pour out his love, grace and peace on all who come.
The same adorer above writes that “there is a unique quiet that visits the adoration chapel in the middle of the night, a stillness that cannot be recaptured easily in the daytime. In these, the little hours of the morning, I am more and more convinced that it is not only the hour of agony that the Lord wishes to share with us in this devotion – though sometimes it is that hour, too – but perhaps even more so, Jesus invites us to know him in those early hours of perfect joy, those shepherd hours, when those simple and faithful men of good will kept watch; those who, while quietly and humbly fulfilling their normal duty, also lived in anticipation of Emmanuel. It was in their normal routine that the sky erupted in music and glory and a mystery they could barely comprehend. These nameless few would race to that hidden cave and find the word made flesh in the unspoiled innocence of a holy infant – a Messiah who knew them by name and was so happy they had come”.
Cardinal Robert Sarah writes that “The men and women who pray in silence, in the night, and in solitude are the supporting pillars of Christ’s Church.” One of the most inspiring stories that came out of the Covid lockdowns was the incredible efforts by Religious Communities to keep Perpetual Adoration going. In Paris, France, Adoration has been going at the Sacré-Coeur for over 135 years. Because of the lockdown, the regular adorers could not keep their holy hours. The 14 nuns of the resident religious community decided to carry on the commitment to Perpetual Adoration themselves until lockdown was finished. This meant that each sister had to pray twice a day for an hour at a time to ensure Perpetual Adoration continued. “It was obvious to us that since we were not touched by the coronavirus, as long as we were still on our feet, we had to act and adapt quickly to this new situation,” said Sister Cécile-Marie, one of the sisters of the community …It was a beautiful experience: We were alone in the basilica, but we felt we were always connected with the adorers that were in spiritual communion from where they were,” Sister Cécile-Marie recalled. “We couldn’t help people by wearing white coats, but we fought the epidemic our own way: through prayer.”
In the Monastery where I lived all those years ago, the Franciscan Friars, during their own lockdown, also kept Perpetual Adoration going for a number of months with only 15 Friars.
So, I want to encourage you to consider the possibility of adoring during the night. There are different ways of helping out. The first way is to become a substitute that we can call on if one of our overnight adorers go away or are sick. Currently we have two such subs who have been invaluable in keeping the chapel open over these years. The second way is to form a group of 4 who then commit to covering 1 hour per week. Each member takes a turn so they are adoring overnight once a month. Currently we have one group that does this. One of the members drives 110km each way in the middle of the night once a month to adore and he loves it. Finally, you can simply try it out. Go with a rostered adorer one night and give it a go.
Adoring during the night does take sacrifice, leaving a warm bed in the middle of the night, but I recall the words of St John Paul II who said that the “Lord is never outdone in generosity”. This has been my experience over the past nine years.
If you have any questions or want to know more please contact me – Matt O’Connell – on email@example.com or 027 536 9407.