Divine Worship


Forty Hours Devotion

What is the Forty Hours Devotion?

The Forty Hours Devotion is an opportunity to gather as a community before the Blessed Sacrament and to pray before the Lord in solemn adoration. It gives us time to deepen our appreciation of the importance of the mystery of the eucharist in our lives. Traditionally it begins with a celebration of Mass. At the end of this opening Mass the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and over a period of a few days the faithful are given the opportunity to assemble in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. The form of prayer to be prayed can be done in diverse ways. The celebration then will end with the celebration of Mass.

In the celebration of the Forty Hours Devotion we are able to witness a fuller expression of our theology of the Eucharist. It is first and foremost about our participation in the Paschal Mystery through our celebration of Mass. In the celebration of Mass we participate directly in the saving acts of Christ and by the grace of the Holy Spirit unite the sacrifices of our lives with the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is in this way that we give praise and thanksgiving to God for Jesus and participate in the true worship of our God by which we are sanctified as His holy people. This leads us then to live out our lives more fully in Christ. This devotion also gives an opportunity to give voice to our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements. As the community gathers in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, it witnesses to our belief, as a Church, that what is before us is bread no longer but truly the Body of Christ.

What is the history of the Forty Hours Devotion?

The exact origin of the Forty Hours Devotion is not known. The first clear attestation for its celebration comes from Milan in 1527. In its inception it was celebrated as reparation for the sins of the community and was motivated to offer prayers to God for protection during the crisis of war. The practice of celebrating Forty Hours Devotion spread rapidly from this point. This may be attributed to various reasons such as the quick approval granted to it by Pope Paul III in 1539. Furthermore, the support of St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria and Saint Philip Neri, who introduced its celebration into Rome in 1550, helped to extend its celebration beyond Milan. Finally, as it was introduced to more places this practice rapidly became popular with the lay faithful.

In time the purpose for celebrating Forty Hours Devotion started to be transformed. This change is witnessed in 1560 by the bull promulgated by Pope Paul IV. He states that the devotion is an imitation of the forty days of fasting of the Lord in the desert, and the time of unceasing prayer called for in scripture and by the early church. This transformation continued such that by the time of the eighteenth century this devotion became primarily eucharistic in nature and centered on thanksgiving for the mystery and gift of the eucharist.

From the eighteenth century onward the rules for celebrating the Forty Hours Devotion were heavily influenced by Pope Clement XII who published in 1731 the Instructio Clementina. This document gave detailed instructions for how this devotion was to be celebrated in the city of Rome. The Instructio became the basis for the further development of Forty Hours throughout the Church. It was very detailed in how the celebration was to occur and what the expectations around its celebration would entail. Other dioceses used this as the foundation for their celebration of the devotion such was the case in the United States. Theses rules for celebration did not change until the Second Vatican Council. The present rules for celebrating Forty Hours Devotion can be found in the Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1992. This document is an adaptation of the Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass.

Why are we celebrating the Forty Hours Devotion now?

The Holy Father has designated this year as the Year of the Eucharist. With this declaration, His Holiness is presenting the Church with a wonderful opportunity to explore, develop, and deepen our appreciation of the Eucharist. The primary setting for the promotion of a life centered in the Eucharist is, of course, the celebration of Mass, but the Church also offers other means of deepening a Eucharistic-centered faith. One such practice is adoration where we gather to pray before the Lord as his presence is revealed to us in the mystery of the eucharistic bread which is truly the Body of Christ. The Forty Hours Devotion gives us the opportunity to come as a community to pray before the Lord in solemn adoration. The Church recommends such solemn adoration at least once a year for each parish. We have, in a sense, a special impetus to do such this year with the Pope declaring this the Year of the Eucharist.

How does the parish celebrate the Forty Hours Devotion?

A general outline for this devotion:

Mass with a homily centered on the Eucharist

Period of exposition

During this exposition…

Celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours

Celebration of the Liturgy of the Word with hymns

Quiet time of meditation on Scripture

Public Praying of the Rosary

Closing Celebration of Mass