Beginning Sunday night (3/17/13) with the 5:30 PM Mass, we will offer the opportunity for prayer and adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, commonly known as the Forty Hours Devotion. This practice, which can be traced to Milan, Italy around the year 1530, is a formalized period of prayer and adoration centering on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.
Prior to this period in the Catholic Church’s history, there were times of exposition and benediction, Eucharistic processions and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. However, both Saints Philip Neri and Ignatius of Loyola instituted the Forty Hours Devotion (with reference to Jesus’ 40 hours in the tomb and recalling other biblical citations in which the symbolic number 40 was specified) in reparation for sin.
Fr. William Saunders, whom I knew from my college seminary days, wrote a rather thorough article, “40 Hours with Jesus Christ,” for his diocesan paper (Arlington Catholic Herald) describing this devotion. I quote from a part of it here:
While the Mass is the central act of worship for us Catholics, an act which participates in the eternal reality of our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection, Vatican Council II upheld and encouraged the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass. Of course such devotion derives from the sacrifice of the Mass and moves the faithful to both sacramental and spiritual communion with our Lord (Eucharisticum Mysterium, #50). . . . Pope John Paul II has repeatedly "highly recommended" public and private devotion of the Blessed Sacrament, including processions on the Feast of Corpus Christi and the 40 Hours Devotion (cf. Dominicae Cenae, #3, and Inaestimabile Donum, #20-22).
It was the 4th Bishop of Philadelphia, St. John Neumann who was a strong promoter of this devotion in his diocese. The practice would also spread to our area of New Jersey and beyond.
After considering this brief history lesson and the official encouragement by saints, popes and church documents, I really think that the essence of this devotion comes down to our belief—our deep faith—in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. If Jesus is really there, why wouldn’t we want to spend time with Him in prayer?
I can simply relate to you from my own personal experience that spending time with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist has been for me my most fruitful times of prayer beyond comparison. I love the Holy Eucharist in all of its dimensions—from offering the Mass to the reception of Holy Communion to adoring and worshiping Jesus’ Real Presence in the tabernacle / monstrance. Jesus is present throughout—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Those that I know (and have known) who have prayed in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament have overwhelmingly come to appreciate what a most precious gift that we have. The Mass is so much more meaningful. The reading of the Sacred Scriptures becomes alive and motivating. The inspiration and wisdom that comes from sitting at the feet of the Master is beyond price!
I invite you to come to Mass and to spend some time during these days—March 17th to 19th—with our Eucharistic Lord. Fr. James King, who was here at our parish as a seminarian, will be the homilist for the three evening Masses.
Fr. Ed Namiotka