The cards speak. They’re often the only voices in the chapel.
Little index cards, penciled with prayers and left in the Cathedral of Christ the King’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel, speak of thankfulness, helplessness and hope.
“Dear God,” one card said. “Please give me hope that I will find the right job.”
The Cathedral of Christ the King practices adoration, an extended moment of quiet prayer before a golden vessel holding the Eucharist. Catholics believe the Eucharist, a thin circle of unleavened bread blessed by a priest, is the physical presence of the body of Jesus Christ. Volunteers called guardians pledge one hour or more of their time each week so someone always sits with the Blessed Sacrament.
“Fundamentally the thing that makes us unique as Catholics is that we don’t believe that it’s the appearance of bread only, but it is actually Jesus himself,” said Bernadette Flowers, stewardship director of time and talent for the Cathedral. “When you come to the adoration chapel you get to place yourself in the presence of Jesus and tell him what’s going on with you, ask his advice, ask for his healing, ask for his understanding.”
Members of the public can visit the chapel from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It’s a tiny room converted from a baptistery behind the church altar. It smells of melting wax and burned incense.
Some chapel visitors want solace from Atlanta’s too-busy pace. Others look for answers. Guardians say some of the most successful-looking people in Atlanta come to tell Jesus that, on the inside, they’re falling apart.
“You see people walk in there and they’ve got on expensive suits and ties and they look like they’ve got their whole world all together,” Flowers said. “Sometimes you read those index cards and they say, ‘Jesus, help me. My wife doesn’t love me anymore’ or ‘Jesus, help me. My children are on drugs,’ or ‘Jesus, help me. My business is failing.’”
While adoration is practiced at local Catholic churches in Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Buckhead and Dunwoody, the Cathedral’s chapel offers “Perpetual Adoration,” meaning a guardian is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Cathedral is also called the Perpetual Adoration Chapel. According to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, there are six metro churches offering perpetual adoration.
Flowers said praying in the presence of the Eucharist offers something more than quiet prayer at home or a Sunday morning Mass.
“Dear Jesus,” a card said. “Please give me the strength to hear your will.”
Cathedral of Christ the King opened the Perpetual Adoration Chapel in 1993, said Keri Allen, associate director of evangelization and adult education. Adoration is a Catholic tradition hundreds of years old, but it had fallen out of common practice when the chapel opened, Allen said.
She said opening the chapel was the idea of Rev. John Francis Donoghue, the archbishop of Atlanta from 1993 to 2004.
“There were fewer Catholics that understood about the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” Allen said. “So it began as an awareness to Catholics but also an opportunity for them to pray not only for their own personal needs but for the universal church as well.”
When it began it was the only perpetual adoration program in metro Atlanta, attracting Catholics from other churches. Some of these churches began their own adoration programs, and the Cathedral had to recruit new guardians to replace the ones who stayed closer to home.
“Please help me discern a way to serve you better with my life,” another card left at the Cathedral’s chapel said. “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
One of the people who left Christ the King’s adoration chapel was Therese Birkbeck, chair of Eucharistic Adoration for All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody. While All Saints held adoration on Wednesdays for many years, Birkbeck has been able to expand it to five days a week.
“I was going to Christ the King for daily adoration and I thought this is crazy that we can’t have it in our own church,” Birkbeck said.
All Saints holds adoration Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., but Birkbeck is looking for ways to add more hours. She fills in for guardians who can’t make it. Birkbeck said spending time in adoration is a way of showing Jesus that it’s not all about her.
“I always feel like we offer kind of a sacrifice to Jesus,” she said. “Instead of just saying, ‘I want.’”
Volunteers and staff at Christ the King said people share good news with Jesus, too.
“My petition for a successful operation was granted,” another index card said. “Thank you, Jesus.”
There have been several marriage proposals in the chapel. Flowers said on one occasion she blocked the chapel door so a man could propose to his girlfriend. Otherwise, speaking in the chapel is rare. Visitors can bring other books with them, but the Bible is the only one that can be left in the presence of the Eucharist. The guardians and visitors are encouraged to pray and read, keeping interaction with others to a minimum. Guardians discourage people from sleeping, but it still happens when people get too relaxed, they said.
For many, the relaxation makes the chapel appealing. The chapel is a distraction from a world full of distractions.
Greg Weston, a Buckhead resident, bowed his head in prayer during one recent visit, the wail of sirens on the nearby Buckhead streets sounded distant and soon faded.
In the silence, Weston and other worshippers listen to their savior. Weston said he visits periodically when he needs to be closer to Christ.
“It’s a peaceful place,” he said.