Forty Hours: An Appeal

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Unrest and Rumours of War

At the risk of sounding alarmist and apocalyptic, I am compelled to make this appeal. The distressing events in Egypt are but one manifestation of a tension that seems to be growing all over the globe. Many souls have a presentiment of impending horrors: civil unrest, attacks upon the Church, violence, spiritual darkness, natural disasters, and wars spinning out of control.

Our Lord Waits to Show Us Mercy

In the face of such threats, Bishops and Priests charged with the care of souls need to enthrone the Most Blessed Sacrament, open wide the doors of their cathedrals and parish churches, and summon the faithful to adore and make humble supplication in the radiance of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face. Do this, and the faithful will come. Do this, and the impending tribulations will be mitigated. Do this and the delay of mercy will be prolonged, allowing a greater multitude to lift their eyes to the Lamb, and be saved.

Before the Throne of the Eucharistic King

Are not these few weeks before Lent the most suitable time to organize the Sacred Forty Hours Devotion in cathedrals and churches everywhere? To delay under the pretexts that it is too difficult to plan, or that the faithful will not come, or that it will raise issues of security is to shut one's ears and eyes to the signs of the times. Invite the faithful to kneel before the throne of the Eucharistic King; His Heart will be touched, and He will show His mercy and His power to the world.

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Less than two years after the beginning of the Forty Hours Devotion, or Sacre Quarant'Ore, in May 1537, at Milan, Pope Paul III, replied to a petition soliciting indulgences for the devotion. This is what Pope Paul III (1468-1549) wrote:

Since Our beloved son the Vicar General of the Archbishop of Milan at the prayer of the inhabitants of the said city, in order to appease the anger of God provoked by the offences of Christians, and in order to bring to nought the efforts and machinations of the Turks who are pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom, amongst other pious practices, has established a round of prayers and supplications to be offered both by day and night by all the faithful of Christ, before our Lord's Most Sacred Body, in all the churches of the said city, in such a manner that these prayers and supplications are made by the faithful themselves relieving each other in relays for forty hours continuously in each church in succession, according to the order determined by the Vicar . . . We, approving in our Lord so pious an institution, confirm the same by Our authority . . . .

The most significant papal document addressing the Forty Hours Devotion is the Constitution Graves et diuturnae of Pope Clement VIII (1506-1635), dated 25 November 1592. Conscious of the numberless dangers threatening the peace of Christendom, the Pontiff strongly commended the practice of uninterrupted prayer before the Blessed Sacrament:

We have determined to establish publicly in this Mother City of Rome (in hac alma Urbe) an uninterrupted course of prayer in such wise that in the different churches . . . on appointed days, there be observed the pious and salutary devotion of the Forty Hours, with such an arrangement of churches and times that, at every hour of the day and night, the whole year round, the incense of prayer shall ascend without intermission before the Face of the Lord".

As in the case of the previously cited Brief of Pope Paul III, the motive for that of Pope Clement VIII document is the threatened devastation of Christendom:

Pray for the concord of Christian princes, pray for France, pray that the enemies of our faith the dreaded Turks, who in the heat of their presumptuous fury threaten slavery and devastation to all Christendom, may be overthrown by the right hand of the Almighty God.

Canon Law

The 1917 Code of Canon Law required that the Forty Hours Devotion should be held annually in every Catholic church or other place where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved:

Can. 1275. Supplicatio Quadraginta Horarum in omnibus ecclesiis paroecialibus aliisque, in quibus sanctissimum Sacramentum habitualiter asservatur statutis de consensu Ordinarii loci diebus, maiore qua fieri potest sollemnitate quotannis habeatur; et sicubi ob peculiaria rerum adiuncta nequeat sine gravi incommodo et cum reverentia tanto sacramento debita fieri, curet loci Ordinarius ut saltem per aliquot continuas horas, statis diebus, sanctissimum Sacramentum sollemniore ritu exponatur.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law simply recommends an annual exposition for an "appropriate" but undefined time, and this only if a "fitting" attendance of the faithful can be assured:

Can. 942. It is recommended that in these churches and oratories an annual solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament be held for an appropriate period of time, even if not continuous, so that the local community more profoundly meditates on and adores the Eucharistic Mystery. Such an exposition is to be held, however, only if a suitable gathering of the faithful is foreseen and the established norms are observed.

What is Made Optional Disappears

As is nearly always the case, once something that has be positively prescribed by law is made optional or merely recommended, it quickly falls into disuse. The near disappearance of the Forty Hours Devotion in dioceses the world over attests to this. Is it not time to shake off the lethargy that has overcome us and return to the Eucharistic Lord, the King of Peace, with all our hearts?

It Can Be Done This Year

Septuagesima Sunday occurs this year on 20 February; Ash Wednesday occurs on 9 March. It seems to me that it would be possible to organize the Forty Hours Devotion in cathedrals and parish churches during the intervening three weeks. What better response can there be to the crisis threatening the Church and the peace of the world?


8 Comments

Father,
Thank you for posting this. We have one Holy Hour every week at our parish, but I have sensed that we needed more. Your challenge cut to my heart! Please for Our Lady of the Ozarks in Forsyth, MO that we may rise to the challenge to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament more and more!
Dow E.

Father,

I'm much impressed by your article, and am also cut to the heart with your challenge. Yours is an appeal that requires action and I pray that it indeed may be heard and acted upon... Towards this effort, may I have permission to reprint your post in full on my blog?

As a convert, I'm intimately aware of the Power of God to draw souls out of the world and serious crises, and into His saving presence within the Eucharist-- I am Catholic today because of this profound truth.

As a Catechist, it is a perfect opportunity to introduce this needed devotion to both my students and their parents at our small mission... (Please pray for this...)

I shall try to promote your appeal from here...

Thanks again,
James Evans

Dear Father Mark, thank you for this very interesting article I picked up on Spirit Daily. I have a monthly newsletter and have sent it to all Priests, Sisters and Friends and asked them to please make it known asap. God bless you and I truly hope this will go around the world and that the WHOLE WORLD will pray in one voice for 40 hours!! God bless you. Jude - South Africa

Thank you for this, for multiple reasons. First, this is where the power lies that will avert numerous negative potentials. Second, at one difficult time in my life, a perpetually available Catholic church near where I worked was my refuge to light a candle and pray, and I believe it helped me through that time. I know times have changed, but I hope this will be more available.

We desperately need more devotion to the Eucharistic Body of Christ. May it come soon.

We have one day of adoration. It is never promoted and since it on a Monday, it is cancelled for every secular holiday weekend. It is cancelled for snow. It is cancelled for cold. It is cancelled for a funeral. It is cancelled for a rosary. Very hard to have continuity. Never preached. I bugged about it and got a sign up weekend last year but the person in charge did no follow up. Sigh.

I pray all the time for perpetual adoration but it is not a high priority in my parish.

Father,

Thank you for this message. I found it on Spirit Daily, like another other of the commenters. I have just forwarded your article to our wonderful pastor.

As an aside, our family loves Oklahoma and the Benedictines. Our youngest, Anthony Benedict Gerard, was born in OKC, although we live in Michigan.

Thank you for this. I keep wondering when we will have someone connect our sinfulness (personal and public) with world events (political and economic) and natural events (extremes in weather and mass animal, bird and fish die-offs). I work closely with Iraqi Christians. They observe a 3 day event called the "Rogation of the Ninevites" which recalls the ancient Assyrians being preserved from deserved destruction because they heeded the words of the prophet Jonah. Christ remembers their repentance and states emphatically that they would rise and condemn the Jews of the 1st Century for their failure to heed Someone much greater than Jonah. Woe to us 2 millenia later if we fail Him too.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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