Once a year in your parish, you may hear the invitation from the pulpit to join in “Forty Hours.” Narthex posters and bulletin announcements encourage parishioners to “sign up for an hour” of Eucharistic Adoration over the special three-day period, while concurrently the pastor asks you to welcome a visiting priest as guest homilist for evening prayer services.
Then, when the special devotion begins in your parish, something different happens at the conclusion of the final Sunday Mass that day: the priest places the Eucharist in a monstrance on the altar, parishioners spend some time in prayer, and depart reverently and silently.
If you’ve never participated in Forty Hours Eucharistic Devotion, the aforementioned scenarios might be your only awareness of it. But even if you have joined in an hour of Adoration or attended an evening prayer service during this special time in your parish, perhaps you want to learn more about the devotion and its significance.
The Catholic Church in the United States is in the midst of a three-year Eucharistic Revival, an initiative of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops that aims to foster deeper devotion and knowledge about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
“Our world is hurting. We all need healing, yet many of us are separated from the very source of our strength,” the National Eucharistic Revival’s website underscores. “Jesus Christ invites us to return to the source and summit of our faith in the celebration of the Eucharist.”
One of the ways in which we can be united with the Lord is through Forty Hours Eucharistic Devotion, especially the hours of Adoration that are at its core.
In a recent interview for the Diocese’s “Candid Catholic Convos” podcast, Father Joshua Brommer, Director of the Diocesan Office for Divine Worship and pastor of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, shared insights into this special devotion and how it can be a period of spiritual renewal for parishes and parishioners.
The full interview with podcast host Rachel Troche and Father Brommer is available on Spotify at this link.
Forty Hours Eucharistic Devotion holds a special place in the spiritual life of the Church. While its exact origins are not completely known, there is evidence that it existed as early as the 12th or 13th century.
Clear indication of the devotion dates to Milan, Italy, in 1537, with letters to the Holy Father requesting special blessings connected to the celebration. The custom at the time was the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in one church after another for continuous Adoration.
“It was driven by this desire to enter into a state of reparation and penance for sins against God, the Church and failures within the Church to be able to defend the faith at times,” Father Brommer said of its development in Milan.
“Pope Clement VIII, by 1592, proclaimed that the devotion should happen in Rome and to be continuous,” Father Brommer continued. “St. John Neumann brought this devotion principally to the United States in the 1800s, and that continuous schedule was part of the practice. Parishes were scheduled one right after the other to have Forty Hours in one continuous movement. We’re told that as the Bishop of Philadelphia, he tried to get to many of those celebrations, whether it was the opening or the closing, so that he could encourage the faithful and be a part of it.”
The period of 40 hours connects to Biblical significance.
“In the Bible, 40 is a significant number because sets of 40 indicate a period of testing, of trial, of God doing something for his people or for an individual,” Father Brommer said, pointing to the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert before reaching the Promised Land; Moses’ 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai before receiving the Ten Commandments; and Jesus’ 40 days of testing and trial by the devil in the wilderness.
“At the end of those 40 days, something new happens because God’s grace brings about renewal. God’s grace brings about a new creation, God’s grace brings out the next step for a parish’s life, for an individual’s life,” Father Brommer said. “The number 40 is so significant…. It invites us to something that is a time of testing, a time of challenge so that we can be made new by God.”
At its core, Forty Hours Devotion is Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament over a prolonged period of time.
“It is rooted in what our belief is – that Jesus Christ is truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the form of bread and wine,” Father Brommer explained. “Though our senses experience the sight, taste and texture of bread and wine, we believe that Christ has made Himself present there fully. It’s no longer bread; it’s no longer wine…. Christ is truly with us. We need to rekindle our amazement, our wonder and our awe in this great sacrament.”
Similar to the continuous prayer that occurs during Perpetual Adoration – a devotion in which adorers are scheduled to be with the Lord in the Eucharist 24 hours a day and seven days a week in Perpetual Adoration Chapels – Forty Hours Devotion invites the faithful to draw near to Christ and spend time in His presence.
“It is intended to replicate the experience [of Perpetual Adoration], but on a parish level, and to give the parishioners, who might not have the opportunity in their ordinary course of life, to take some time to pray to the Lord and to be quiet with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration,” Father Brommer said. “It has this opportunity for parishioners and a parish community alike to spend an intense period of time in prayer.”
When the devotion first began several hundred years ago, its period of prayer was just that – 40 hours. Some parishes continue the tradition of 40 continuous hours around the clock, while others offer time for adoration during the day and evening.
“Every parish has the opportunity to make it their own,” Father Brommer said. “They can take their parish community, their parish prayer and liturgical schedule and transform that over the course of a few days into an opportunity to truly pray in the presence of Christ in His Eucharistic presence. There’s not a single pattern that is mandated for Forty Hours in every parish.”
The devotion often begins at the last Mass on Sunday with Solemn Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, when the priests places the consecrated host into the monstrance on the altar.
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament “gives us the opportunity to be able to draw near to Christ and to look upon Him as He looks upon us,” Father Brommer said.
Throughout the period of Forty Hours, parishioners are invited to sign up for half-hour or hour-long periods of prayer in the Lord’s presence.
“This calls us to remember the night before Jesus dies, when He tells the apostles, ‘Stay here. Watch and pray.’ But He comes back and they’ve fallen asleep. What we want to do is make sure that someone’s actually doing what He told us to do. We stay and we keep watch and we pray. That’s the core action of the entire 40 hours,” Father Brommer explained.
During the three days of the devotion, the parish gathers each evening for the Liturgy of the Word, with Scripture readings and a homily given by a guest priest or deacon who preaches on the Holy Eucharist. Priests from area parishes also participate in the evening prayer service, and sometimes the parish offers time for the faithful to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
Adoration may conclude after the prayer service each evening, or it may continue throughout the night. Forty Hours Devotion concludes on the third evening, with a liturgical celebration.
“As a parish, we gather together, we sing the Lord’s praises, the final homily is preached, and then Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament occurs, in which the priest lifts the monstrance, makes the Sign of the Cross over those who are present and blesses everyone with the Body of Christ. It’s one of the most solemn forms of the blessing that the Church has and is the solemn conclusion of Forty Hours Devotion,” Father Brommer said.
“The opportunity for celebrating devotional life and devotional prayer together, the opportunity to gather around and listen to God’s word as a parish community, and the opportunity for personal quiet time with the Lord is the very core of Eucharistic Adoration throughout the 40 Hours Eucharistic Devotions,” he said.
Our participation in Forty Hours Devotion can give us the spiritual renewal we need to reawaken our faith and deepen our appreciation of the Mystery of the Eucharist in our lives.
“We know in our daily lives we can get very sleepy at times. We do indeed fall asleep in our spiritual life from time to time,” Father Brommer said. “The purpose of Forty Hours Devotion in a parish is to wake us up and to stir us back into devotion and love for Christ in His True Presence in our midst.”
“It’s one of the most needed things right now,” he said. “When you think about human relationships, it’s the little things that keep the spark alive. Between a husband and a wife, it’s the unexpected flowers, it’s the nice little note that’s left when nothing was expected and it helps keep the spark of love, tenderness and affection alive. Our relationship with God is very much like that. We need to be able to have those little things that give us an opportunity to express our love and affection for the Lord, Who is present to us and with us through the Holy Eucharist on a regular basis. When we don’t do that, the relationship will falter. When we do that, we’re always ready for whatever the Lord has in store for us.”
Information on Forty Hours Devotions in the Diocese and a schedule of parish devotions is available at this link.
(Photos from St. Theresa Parish by Chris Heisey; photos from St. Andrew Parish by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness