BALTIMORE — The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary will begin offering perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament May 31, the same day it celebrates its 200th anniversary.
Immediately following an afternoon anniversary Mass of the nation’s first cathedral, Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori will dedicate a recently upgraded eucharistic adoration chapel in the basilica’s undercroft named in honor of St. John Paul II. The name recognizes the Polish pontiff’s historic 1995 visit to the Archdiocese of Baltimore, when he prayed inside the basilica.
“The Eucharist is Jesus,” said Father James Boric, the basilica’s rector. “In making the Eucharist available to the people of Baltimore 24/7, we’re making Jesus available 24/7.”
Boric called the adoration chapel a sanctuary where people will encounter God in a personal way.
“We live in a divided world — and even our church is divided,” he said. “The Eucharist is a great source of unity. People of many different viewpoints and backgrounds will come together to pray and to help foster the unity that Christ called for during his last prayer before he went to the cross.”
The inauguration of perpetual adoration in the city fulfills a dream of Msgr. Arthur Valenzano, Boric’s predecessor as the basilica’s rector. The priest, who died of cancer in 2015, established the basilica’s adoration chapel in 2011 — a chapel that was refurbished in a 2014 renovation, with adoration then offered during limited hours five days a week.
The 2014 adoration chapel was constructed around a restored Gothic monstrance that had been mysteriously plucked from the Loch Raven Reservoir many years earlier by a fisherman who gifted it to the archdiocese.
In preparation for the chapel’s transformation into a round-the-clock center of eucharistic devotion, Father Boric decided to replace the previous free-standing monstrance with a specially designed tabernacle bolted into place to keep the Blessed Sacrament secure.
The new gold-plated tabernacle includes an interior door in which a luna — a round receptacle holding the sacred host — will allow the Eucharist to be visible for adoration. The metallic structure stands on a base inscribed with St. John Paul II’s motto, “Totus Tuus” (“All yours”).
Kinga Lipinska of Granda Liturgical Arts, who served as project manager for the construction of the new tabernacle, said the object took more than four months to make near Madrid. Its door features a hand-painted enamel image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, the chalice and the sacred host.
“The chapel is an intimate space made for one-to-one prayer,” Lipinska said. “Architecturally, it has an interesting tension between the small space and the beautiful, large tabernacle. It gives you a face-to-face encounter with the eucharistic Jesus. It’s a unique opportunity to adore our Lord in a very visually stimulating setting.”
The adoration chapel, which seats approximately eight people, features the kneeler used by St. John Paul II during his visit to the basilica. A relic from the saint — a strand of his hair — is visible in a small glass reliquary attached to the top of the kneeler, Boric said.
In two small rooms attached to the adoration chapel, the basilica now displays the chasuble worn by St. John Paul II when he celebrated Mass at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a restored painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, which the pope prayed before during his visit to the basilica.
A bronze bust of the saint greets visitors, who can read one of his reflections about the importance of adoration posted on a nearby plaque. A previous plaque installed in the 2014 renovation remains, noting that the chapel is dedicated to Valenzano.
Boric said the adoration chapel underwent other recent improvements, including a repaired wall and the introduction of a door so worshippers can pray in silence.
The tabernacle and other improvements cost approximately $125,000. The basilica raised additional funds to provide security around the clock, Boric said, noting that those who schedule late night or early morning visits can request to be escorted to their cars. The chapel will be accessible during late hours with a security code.
To have round-the-clock adoration, which is offered at a handful of parishes around the Baltimore Archdiocese, at least two people per hour must be present before the Blessed Sacrament at all times. That represents a total of 336 people who must commit to at least one hour of adoration a week. Others are invited to visit whenever they can, whether that’s for a quick five-minute prayer or for lengthier stays.
Lori has designated different prayer intentions for each day of the basilica chapel’s use that include prayers for vocations, marriage and families, Catholic schools and a greater love for the Eucharist as well as prayers for an end to racism, violence in the city and abortions in Baltimore.
Boric has invited all pastors in the archdiocese to encourage their parishioners to sign up to pray in the chapel. Already, Church of the Nativity in Timonium has committed to having some of its parishioners pray for six hours every Friday.
Celena Hoey, pastoral council president at the basilica, has signed up for a 4 a.m. time slot.
“It’s not just a nice thing to do,” said Hoey, who works for Healthcare for the Homeless. “It’s actually an encounter with Jesus. And so, any encounter we have with God is going to bring a miracle.”
Being in Christ’s eucharistic presence in the early morning is particularly moving, she said.
“I love it at any time of the day,” she added, “but there’s something about those early morning hours that is so comforting. I’m not looking at my phone. I’m just focused on him. There’s a stillness and a calm and a peace.”
Father Boric believes perpetual adoration will have a “huge and very tangible” impact on Baltimore.
“By coming and having your heart intercede for the city and by having your heart more conformed to Christ’s, that’s going to lead to a change in society,” the priest said.
Matysek is digital editor for the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Catholic Review, the archdiocese’s news outlet.