As sweet-smelling smoke from burning incense floated heavenward in graceful, fading swirls of gray, dozens of children crowded into the sanctuary at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Nov. 21.
Quietly and reverently, the youngsters found spots to kneel before a golden monstrance that held a large, consecrated host on the altar.
“It looks like bread, but it really is Jesus,” explained Father Erik Arnold, pastor of the Ellicott City parish, reminding the young onlookers that Christ is truly present in body, blood, soul and divinity through the Blessed Sacrament.
“Let’s fix our hearts right there on Jesus and think about how much he loves us,” he said. “Let’s remember how he gave up his life on the cross out of love for us.”
Led by a guitarist, the youngsters sang the refrain of a simple song – softly at first, but increasing in intensity as they repeated the refrain again and again.
“Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds,” they sang, “and nothing I desire compares to you.”
The monthly half-hour gathering for children’s eucharistic adoration at Our Lady of Perpetual Help began last spring at the request of a home-schooling parent. This year, children from Our Lady of Perpetual Help School are also participating in the prayer session.
The parish modeled its children’s adoration service on one developed by Father Antoine Thomas, a Brother of St. John and a native of France who promotes children’s adoration around the world.
The service is becoming increasingly popular, attracting about 20 people last year and now averaging more than 60 homeschoolers, parents and parish school children.
Father Arnold believes the service is a way to help children better understand the Eucharist and grow in their love for Christ. It is also a good experience for children preparing for their First Holy Communion, he said.
“It offers them the chance to learn to approach Jesus in a personal and intimate way,” he said. “If we really believe that Jesus is really present, then think of all the love and power and healing and mercy that comes from that.”
During the Nov. 21 service, Father Arnold encouraged children to close their eyes and stretch out their hands toward the Blessed Sacrament. The participants opened their palms in a symbol of being open to Jesus.
The pastor concluded the service by draping his hands in a white vestment, lifting the monstrance high above the kneeling children and blessing them with the sign of the cross. The children dutifully repeated the ancient gesture.
Rebekah Balick, an 8-year-old homeschooler from St. Louis in Clarksville, called adoration a “beautiful experience.”
“It gets me closer to Jesus,” said Rebekah, who attended the event with her sisters, Veronica, 10, Theresa, 7, and Katarina, 5.
“It’s a time when I can be alone and be quiet and feel Jesus come into my heart,” she said.
Nancy Balick, Rebekah’s mother, likened children’s adoration to a foretaste of heaven.
“The children are so innocent and they believe so easily,” she said. “They’re not burdened by everything in life that adults face.”
Praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament is a lot different from praying at home, according to William Sharp, a 7-year-old second grader at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.
“I just like to be able to see Jesus,” he said. “It’s the body of Christ and that makes it very special.”