Eucharistic Adoration and the 40 Hours Devotion
Let’s begin with a prayer:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts. Enkindle us with the fire of Thy love, that like the travelers on the road to Emmaus, our hearts may burn within us. May we empty ourselves of idols, vanities, and attachments, that we may be truly filled by You, Lord, our hope and our salvation. Open the eyes and ears of our soul that we may become aware of the great gift of Your Presence within us. That we might not offend you, Lord, but always bring glory to Your Name. Praying Psalm 56: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me: for my soul trusteth in thee…My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready.” Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Here I am, back again for another talk! Tonight, I am going to be talking about Eucharistic Adoration and the 40 Hours Devotion. St. Cantius will be holding their annual 40 Hours Devotion starting this Sunday, and I thought now would be the perfect time to learn a little more about its history, why Eucharistic Adoration is important and fruitful, and what exactly you’re supposed to do during adoration.
So first, what is Eucharistic Adoration? In a nutshell, Eucharistic Adoration is when our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a monstrance, and it is an opportunity for us to spend time with the Lord. The monstrance, coming from the Latin word monstrare, meaning to show, is also called an ostensorium, and it is a tall medal vessel that is typically gold plated, with a transparent section in the center to hold a single Consecrated Host. This transparent section is typically surrounded by a sunburst shape, drawing one’s eyes directly to the Sacred Host and symbolizing Christ’s radiant glory, as Christ’s face shone like the sun during His transfiguration on the Mountain of Tabor.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2628), “Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. It exalts the greatness of the Lord who made us and the almighty power of the Savior who sets us free from evil. Adoration is homage of the spirit to the “King of Glory,” respectful silence in the presence of the “ever greater” God. Adoration of the thrice-holy and sovereign God of love blends with humility and gives assurance to our supplications.” The adoration of our Lord in the flesh first began with His birth in Bethlehem. The magi, following the star with great joy, fell down and worshiped the infant Jesus, adoring their King (Matthew 2:11), and the shepherds, after being visited by an angel of the Lord, went with haste to see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Adoration is again seen later in our Lord’s life, when Jesus visits Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Mary sits at Jesus’ feet adoring Him. When Martha complains that her sister does not help serve, Jesus gently answers, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.” Instead of busying ourselves and becoming anxious, the one thing that is needful is to spend time in God’s presence. “Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament has His hands full of graces,” says St. Peter of Alcantara, “and He is ready to bestow them on anyone who asks for them.”
The importance of Eucharistic Adoration and the reverence we give to God by adoring Him in the Eucharist hinges on our Catholic belief in the True Presence of God in the Eucharist. While great reverence was always given to the Blessed Sacrament, the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, spending time in the presence of the Eucharist or praying before it outside of mass during the early years of the church was not widespread practice. The practice of Eucharistic Adoration, as is seen today, developed slowly over time as the Holy Spirit continued deepening our understanding of the Divinely revealed truth of the Real Presence.
Being in the presence of the Eucharist was always considered sacred, so while it took many years for public adoration to develop, the Sacred Host was always treated with reverence, being administered to confer upon the communicant sustaining grace, a strengthening against temptation, and the remission of venial sins. Dating back to 120 AD, the early church initiated the custom of fermentum, which is the Latin word for leaven. The bishop of one diocese would travel with a particle of Eucharistic bread and give it to the bishop of another diocese who would then consume it during his next high mass. This act symbolized the ‘leaven of unity’ that all Christians are called to, as we are all members of the body of Christ. The act of carrying the Sacred Host on one’s person continued and developed. Justin Martyr, in his writing of around 150 AD entitled, Apology, spoke of the practice of traveling with the Eucharist so the faithful not present during the consecration could partake of it. He wrote: “deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” And for all those who don’t know, as written in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the word “Eucharist,” coming from the Greek, may be translated either as “good grace,” for the grace of God is eternal, or as “thanksgiving,” as we daily give thanks to to God for all His kindnesses to us, particularly the grace He grants us in this Sacrament.
By the third century, the early hermits were able to travel with the Eucharist and keep it with them in their cells. As religious life evolved from solitary to community life, the importance of having the Blessed Sacrament available to the community at large grew, and the reservation of the Eucharist in private cells moved to its reservation in a special location for the entire community. While it is difficult to establish when the practice of reserving consecrated hosts began, by 325 AD, the church had established an official constitution on the matter, showing that reservation had become more common. Early on, the church, discovering a need, started to reserve Consecrated Hosts to be kept on hand for the sick and dying, similar to Justin Martyr’s writing stating that a portion of the Consecrated Eucharist be taken to those not present. As time passed, the importance of reserving Consecrated Hosts only increased.
According to the Council of Nicaea of 325 AD, it was decreed that “the chrism and the eucharist are to be kept locked away in a safe place in all churches, so that no audacious hand can reach them to do anything horrible or impious” (Constitutions 20). Initially, the Church reserved the Consecrated Host in a room close to the sanctuary, but separate from the main church itself. It wasn’t until around 800 AD that the Eucharist began to be reserved on the high altar, in a manner resembling our current day tabernacles. By 1000 AD, reservation of the Sacred Host was universal in religious houses, and within these private religious communities, Eucharistic Adoration began, however this devotion was not commonly extended to the laity. So we see this evolution that as Christendom grew, the ability to safely retain and place the Most Blessed Sacrament in a central place of worship for the faithful was able to blossom and develop.
The belief in the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist was taken for granted and faithfully upheld for about the first thousand years of the church. That is, until Berengarius, an archdeacon of France, hit the scene around 1050 AD. He began teaching that Christ was only spiritually present in the Eucharist, and that a substantial change did not occur in the Host, arguing that Christ could not be brought down from Heaven until the Last Judgement. His teaching began diving the church, and that is when official action had to be taken. Pope Gregory VII, defending Catholic doctrine, ordered Berengarius to retract his statements and to adhere to the following profession of faith:
I believe in my heart and openly profess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and, offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from His side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the efficacy of the sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of their nature and substance.
That profession of faith is profound, and which Berengarius signed in 1080 AD, hundreds of years before the Protestant Reformation! Berengarius’ heresy forced the church to make its first definitive statement on the belief of the Real Presence, and in response, Eucharistic devotion flourished. Eucharistic Processions were instituted and visits and devotion to Christ in the tabernacle or the pyx, a small, portable container for the Sacred Host were encouraged. Following the victory over another heresy, that of the Albigensians who believed that the spirit was good, but the flesh was bad, going so far as to promote suicide to free yourself from the evil of material things, King Louis VII of France initiated the first instance of public lay Eucharistic Adoration on September 11, 1226, asking that the Blessed Sacrament be exposed. No longer was the adoration of the exposed Blessed Sacrament reserved for religious communities, but now, in 1226, it was available to the public. Adoration evolved from worshipping Our Lord in the tabernacle, to worshipping our Lord in the tabernacle with the doors open, to its culmination in the solemn exposition of our Lord in the Consecrated Host.
St. Clare of Assisi lived during this era of the 1200s, and through her belief and faith in the power of God in the Eucharist, a miraculous defeat occurred. By imperial order, pillaging soldiers approached St. Clare’s newly formed religious order, preparing to attack and destroy it. With holy confidence, St. Clare prayed to God, and lifting the ciborium holding the Sacred Host high out of the window, halted the attack. Upon seeing the gold container holding the Blessed Sacrament, the army fell back and retreated, and the sisters won the victory before the battle even began. This miracle only reaffirms the glorious graces and power hidden within this mystery of faith.
Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament continued to increase, and the feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, was instituted in 1264. Initially, the Blessed Sacrament was processed in the chalice-shaped ciborium, and was hidden from view inside its golden container, but as this popular devotion increased, the monstrance that we use today, displaying the Eucharist for all to see, began to be developed and used.
Thanks again to another heresy, the heresy of the Protestant Reformation, the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist again had to be defended and defined, and the practice of perpetual adoration developed worldwide. During the Council of Trent, held from 1545-1563, doctrine on the Holy Eucharist was further defined, (and in Canon VI from the thirteenth session), declaring that Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, is to be adored with the worship of latria, the supreme honor due to God alone, and that the sacrament is to be honored with solemn celebrations. And in particular, that the Most Holy Sacrament is to be publicly exposed for adoration by the people, and that this adoration is not idolatry because we are worshipping the True Presence of God in the Eucharist. During the Reformation, lootings and desecrations of Catholic Churches and especially profanation of the Blessed Sacrament itself, such as receiving communion in the hand to weaken the belief of the faithful in the True Presence, became common, so to make reparation for these outrages, the faithful spent time adoring Him both day and night. Pope John Paul II affirms that “the best, the surest and the most effective way of establishing PEACE on the face of the earth is through the great power of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.” Through Eucharistic Adoration, the faithful during the Protestant Reformation were able to find peace and stability during such an explosive time.
So that is how we get to Eucharistic Adoration today. Whew! Okay, now that we have established the basic history of Eucharistic Adoration, why exactly should we adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Let’s hear what some saints have to say about it. Mother Teresa tells us that “every Holy Hour we make so pleases the Heart of Jesus that it will be recorded in Heaven and retold for all eternity.” St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, recorded Jesus’ own words on the matter, in which He expresses: ‘I have a burning thirst to be honored by men in the Blessed Sacrament’. And Pope St. Pius X declares: “The devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation, because it gives us the Author of Grace; [and] it is the sweetest, because the Lord is Sweetness Itself.” That sounds pretty good to me.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1418) tells us that “‘To visit the Blessed Sacrament is…a proof of gratitude, an expression of love, and a duty of adoration toward Christ our Lord.’” Not only do we give Christ His due worship through Eucharistic Adoration, but we are also strengthened for our spiritual battle here on earth. Remember, we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers. All of the evil we are seeing creep into society and the church today can be combated through Eucharistic Adoration. Pope Benedict XVI said, “The heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind.” And St. John Bosco heeds: “Listen: there are two things the devil is deadly afraid of: fervent Communions and frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament.”
The Devil strives to isolate, divide, and distract. With lockdowns, social distancing, masks, and abounding fear, not to mention a whole slew of other battles occurring inside the church itself, Satan has successfully removed us from Christ’s peace and protection. We must return to God, for 2 Chronicles 14 says “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” God’s Holy Face is concealed in the Eucharist. And so is His Sacred Heart. God gives us His own heart in the Eucharist, that He might heal our own hearts. We all want to change the world, but we can only change the world if we allow ourselves to be changed by God. Let the Lord change your heart, and mold it in His image. All we do is in vain without Him. The Lord will heal our land, if we first give Him permission to heal ourselves. So let us put on the whole armor of God: the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:13-17). As St. John Bosco also says:
“Do you want the Lord to give you many graces? Visit Him often. Do you want Him to give you few graces? Visit Him rarely. Do you want the devil to attack you? Visit Jesus rarely in the Blessed Sacrament. Do you want him to flee from you? Visit Jesus often!”
Okay, so now that we know why we should go to Eucharistic Adoration, and hopefully are excited to go, what exactly is one supposed to do during adoration? Oh, and one extra benefit to going to adoration is under the usual conditions, you can receive a plenary indulgence if you make a visit in adoration to the Blessed Sacrament for at least half an hour. Woo!
The most simple way to take part in Eucharistic Adoration is to just be present with God. St. John Vianney recounts what a parishioner who used to pray before the tabernacle once told him: “I look at Him, and He looks at me.” It’s that simple. Acknowledge His presence, the mystery, and His greatness, and allow your heart to find quiet and stillness. Just as Jesus is exposed in the Blessed Sacrament, expose your own heart to Jesus. Speak to Him as a friend, and tell Him your struggles, worries, joys. But above all, like any good conversation, listen to what He has to say back to you, and believe that He has something to say to you, today. When Moses spoke to God face to face, the skin of his face shone, just from being in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29). Spending an hour of companionship with the Lord in adoration is like spending a day in the sun. You don’t always immediately feel the effects, but later on you realize you’ve gotten a tan. It’s commonly said that we are a combination of the 5 people we spend the most time with, so the more time we spend with Jesus, the easier it is to imitate His life.
There are a number of other suitable and profitable activities that can be done during adoration. You can read the Bible, and really listen to God’s word through the texts of Sacred Scripture. You can read other spiritual materials, such as books written by saints, to learn practical ways on how to live out the Gospel. You can pray the Rosary, or contemplate Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, or meditate on certain prayers like the Our Father or the Apostles Creed. During adoration, you can either kneel, sit, or lay prostrate. It is important to show proper reverence to Our Lord, so choose a posture that allows you to maintain your focus on Him. If we become too comfortable or too uncomfortable, our thoughts will turn in on ourselves as our mind either wanders off into daydreams or remains distracted fighting the discomfort. Make sure to avoid other unnecessary distractions as well, such as your phone, or even sitting too far away if you will be tempted to pay more attention to someone praying in front of you than praying yourself. We’ve all done it. “Wow they really look connected to the Lord. Ooh nice shirt. Is that guy sleeping?” Distractions happen, but set yourself up for success to minimize them.
How long do you need to spend in adoration? Any amount of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament is profitable. According to St. Alphonsus De Ligouri, “In a quarter of an hour’s prayer, spent in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, you will perhaps gain more than in all the other spiritual exercises of the day.” Prayer is a muscle to build, so don’t be frustrated if spending an entire hour in adoration seems impossible. In fact, St. Peter Julian Eymard says, “When your hour is particularly difficult, rejoice all the more; your love will be greater for its suffering more. It is a privileged hour that will count for two.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen said: “The Holy Hour became like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world. Even when it seemed so unprofitable and lacking in spiritual intimacy, I still had the sensation of being at least like a dog at the master’s door, ready in case he called me.” He also powerfully described adoration in this way:
First, the Holy Hour is not a devotion; it is a sharing in the work of redemption. Our Blessed Lord used the words “hour” and “day” in two totally different connotations in the Gospel of John. “Day” belongs to God; the “hour” belongs to evil. Seven times in the Gospel of John, the word “hour” is used, and in each instance it refers to the demonic, and to the moments when Christ is no longer in the Father’s Hands, but in the hands of men. In the Garden, our Lord contrasted two “hours” – one was the evil hour “this is your hour” – with which Judas could turn out the lights of the world. In contrast, our Lord asked: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?”. In other words, he asked for an hour of reparation to combat the hour of evil; an hour of victimal union with the Cross to overcome the anti-love of sin.
During adoration, at least one person must be present with Christ at all times. Many times, when leaving the pew, you will see the faithful kneel down touching their face to the floor in obeisance, and leaving the church, may even walk backwards to not turn their back on Our Lord. I didn’t have enough time to dig into these customs, and whether they are more popular in certain regions, but what is important is to be reverent, and if you feel called to something more, then do that something more.
At St. Cantius, our church weekly holds an hour of adoration after the Wednesday evening mass, but starting this Sunday, we will be blessed to participate in the 40 Hours Devotion, which is an extended form of perpetual adoration. The 40 Hours Devotion is held annually at St. Cantius, and can almost be seen as a mini-retreat, a graced time to spend an extended period in silence, one-on-one with our Lord. We have the opportunity to come before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in gratitude for the blessings and graces He has poured out upon us, in reparation for sins that offend Him, especially His profanation in the Eucharist, to pray for the sick and those in their last agony, and to entreat God’s protection for our country and our church.
The 40 Hours Devotion originated in Milan around 1530. The Archbishop of Milan entreated the Pope for an indulgence for this practice, “in order to appease the anger of God provoked by the offenses 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,” which in 1539, Pope Paul III approved. By 1550, St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria and St. Philip Neri expanded this devotion to Rome. And in 1592, Pope Clement VIII released a document more firmly establishing the precepts of properly carrying out the devotion, which in 1731 became more thorough and detailed through the influence of Pope Clement XIII. In the Code of Canon Law of 1917, it was recommended that in every church which reserves the Blessed Sacrament that “there is to be each year a solemn exposition of the blessed Sacrament…so that the local community may more attentively meditate on and adore the eucharistic mystery” (Canon 942).
Forty is a very biblically significant number: when the flood came with Noah and the ark, it rained for 40 days and nights, leaving Egypt, the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years, before beginning His public ministry, Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, but most significantly, the 40 Hours Devotion recalls the traditional 40 Hour period from our Lord’s death and burial until His resurrection.
The 40 Hours Devotion will begin this Sunday, October 17th with a Solemn High Mass at 12:30pm, celebrating the External Solemnity of St. John Cantius, Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church. Exposition and Adoration will continue after mass from 2pm-10pm. Monday and Tuesday, October 18th and 19th, the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for adoration from 9am to 10pm. The Blessed Sacrament will be reposed during the night and during daily mass. On Wednesday, October 20th, adoration will again begin at 9am, and the 40 Hours will close with a Solemn High Mass at 7:30 with a closing Benediction at the end of mass.
As some takeaway points, the opportunity to celebrate the 40 Hours Devotion will allow you to:
- Enjoy Christ’s intimate friendship
- Become aware of Christ’s presence in your life
- Reflect on how well your life mirrors Christ’s life
- and Remember that His Presence derives from the sacrifice of the Mass
And this devotion centers on:
- Reparation for sins, both our own and others’
- Protection and Deliverance from evil and temptation
- and Thanksgiving for God’s abundant graces
St. Faustina writes: “Not only are we to receive and adore the Eucharist, we must live the Eucharist. We are to let the rays of mercy from the monstrance pass through us and go out through all the world.” If you’re available during any of these hours, consider signing up for an Adoration slot to spend time with our Eucharistic King and our Good Shepherd. Time spent with the Lord is never wasted. Even when your prayer is dry and difficult, your soul benefits greatly and God will reward your effort.
If you truly believe in the Real Presence, that God is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar, that changes everything. Your life has to change, be transformed. The way you approach Him and receive Him will radically change. Going to mass would become a gift, not a chore. You would never think nor dare to miss it, and you would clamor to go to mass at every possible opportunity. Those we are closest to: spouses, parents, friends, we desire to spend time with, either talking or simply enjoying each other’s presence on a daily basis. If God is truly present, should we not desire daily to spend time with Him? And while talking on the phone suffices when nothing else is possible, is it not preferable to be face to face, embracing the one you love? Don’t phone in your relationship with God. “True, Our Lord hears our prayers anywhere,” says St. Alphonsus De Ligouri, “for He has made the promise, ‘Ask, and you shall receive,’ but He has revealed to His servants that those who visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament will obtain a more abundant measure of grace.” Be truly present with Him. Work on your relationship. He desires to spend eternity with you. Mother Teresa reminds us that “when you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”
Do not be lukewarm or bored. For if you are, you will be spat out, for your salt has lost its flavor. God tells us. To “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven,” but how often do we put other things first out of busyness? I can’t go to mass because of my job. I have a prior social engagement. It’s just too far and cold outside. These are the excuses given to the King in the parable when he sent his servants out to invite his friends to his son’s wedding banquet. They would not come because they were busy, with things that were important, true, but our priorities are not in order. “Souls do not even pay any attention to Me,” Jesus tells St. Faustina (Diary 1385), “they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things…They treat Me as a dead object” in Holy Communion.
Many are called, but few are chosen. Blessed are those called to the supper of the lamb. You are called. God is calling you right now, so how will you answer? What will you say in response to Jesus’ question: Who do you say I am? Will you answer as the world does, saying. He is simply a prophet or a good teacher, or will you answer as Peter does: you are the Christ. “Do you realize,” says St. Therese of Lisieux, “that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you—for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.” God will reward you if you put Him first. Put your faith in Him, and live your life like you truly believe. It will make a difference for your soul, and for other souls as well.