As I write I am within sight of the Rocky Mountains, preparing to preach at Masses during a parish’s Forty Hours’ Devotion, also called by the Italian Quarant’ore.
We will expose the Blessed Sacrament for continuous adoration and have Solemn Masses in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite with processions in honour of the Eucharist.
The Quarant’ore devotion prays for protection from evils, reparation for sins, and deliverance from political, material and spiritual calamities. We implore Christ to pour down abundant graces for own immediate needs, but also for our Church, our nation and the whole world. Until recent decades, parishes rotated in a fixed annual observance of the Forty Hours so that it was always going on somewhere in the diocese.
The origins of the Forty Hours’ Devotion are wreathed in obscurity. The period of 40 hours probably came from the length of time Christ remained in the tomb. From this grew the practice of vigils of 40 hours on other days and times of the year. Great saints of the 16th century promoted this devotion, including Charles Borromeo, Antonio Maria Zaccaria, Ignatius Loyola, Francis de Sales and Philip Neri.
Speaking of calamities, the turbulent 16th century resembles our own. Peoples were displaced by invading armies. Terrifying disease scythed down swathes. Theological revolt shredded Holy Church’s unity. Exploration of the New World and progress in the natural sciences led to discoveries which shook people’s worldview. People truly dreaded assaults by marauding Islamic “Turks”, who threatened Christendom.
Unlike us, our forebears spent countless hours begging God for protection from enemies, famine, disease and sin. They did penance in reparation for sins, especially blasphemy, sacrilege and indifference. Do we? In that era of upheaval, when faith and daily life were closely interwoven, Forty Hours’ Devotion spread from the Roman Church to the rest of the world. Faithful perseverance in devotion for the Blessed Sacrament had social consequences. Lay confraternities arose to adore the Eucharist, but also to feed the poor, educate orphans and bury the dead found in the streets. Catholics who spent time with the Eucharistic Lord turned their energies also to good works. Sensing the Lord’s Presence, they made Christ present to others through their words and deeds. We are our rites.
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