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 Forty Hours Devotion customarily ends with the celebration of Mass.

In the celebration of the Forty Hours Devotion, we are able to witness a fuller expression of our Catholic faith in the Eucharist. It is first and foremost about our participation in the Paschal Mystery through the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, we participate directly in the saving acts of Christ, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit we 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 the Father for his Son 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 faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As the community gathers in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, it witnesses to our faith, as a church, that what is before us is bread no longer but truly the body of Christ (Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the sacred host and in the precious blood).

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 by the desire 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. These 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 encouraging the Forty Hours Devotion now?

The archbishop has called the archdiocese to a new time of eucharistic renewal. This is 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 in his Blessed Sacrament, exposed in the monstrance or in the tabernacle. In the Sacred Host, consecrated during Holy Mass, Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. 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.

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

Preparation for the celebration of Forty Hours Devotion – theological points

(Taken from Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist)

  • Solemn Exposition offers an occasion for the faithful
    • To develop a deeper devotion to the Eucharist
    • To reflect on how well their lives mirror Christ’s
    • To become more aware of Jesus’ presence in their lives
    • To deepen their spiritual communion with Christ
  • Structuring the devotional exercises should
    • Make clear their connection to the liturgy
    • Make clear that the celebration of the eucharistic Sacrifice in the Mass is the source and culmination of the whole Christian life
    • Take into out account the liturgical seasons
    • Lead people back to the liturgical celebration
    • Remain in accord with the liturgy
  • Through solemn exposition the faithful should
    • Remember that his presence
      • derives from the sacrifice of the Mass
      • has as its purpose both sacramental and spiritual communion
    • Be drawn into an ever deeper share in the Paschal Mystery
    • Respond gratefully to the gift of Christ present in the Eucharist
    • Enjoy Christ’s intimate friendship
    • Pray for themselves, those dear to them and for the world
    • Strive to worship the Lord Jesus Christ in a manner fitting to their way of life
  • Through prayer in solemn exposition the faithful
    • Offer their entire lives with Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit
    • Derive and increase in faith, hope and charity
    • Extends the union with Jesus Christ reached in reception of communion
    • Renew their fidelity to the Lord’s covenant
    • Are strengthened to live out the covenant received through faith and sacrament
    • Are reminded to live their whole lives
      • strengthened by sacramental communion
      • as sharers in the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s suffering, death,  Resurrection and glorious Ascension, which leads to the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and ultimately to Christ’s return)
      • eager to do good works and to please God
      • to instill in the world the spirit of the Gospel
      • to become witnesses to Christ and missionary disciples
  • The relationship of Exposition to Mass
    • Acknowledges Christ’s marvelous presence in the sacrament
    • Offers strong encouragement toward the worship owed to Christ in spirit and in truth
    • Is intended to lead back to the celebration of Mass

Preparation for the celebration of Forty Hours Devotion – practical suggestions

  • Create a committee for planning purposes
  • Get a copy of Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist
    • May be ordered from
  • Determine the exact order you will use for celebrating the Forty Hours Devotion
    • It should begin with Mass
      • Choose a day and time that many parishioners may attend
      • Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist gives the necessary details for how to begin solemn exposition at the end of Mass.
      • The host to be used for solemn exposition should be consecrated at the Mass, which precedes the beginning of such exposition.
    • Determine the times that public prayer will occur. “During the exposition there should be prayers, songs and readings to direct the attention of the faithful to the worship of Christ the Lord” (OSEHE # 15). In other words, the time of adoration is not intended to be only a time of silent meditation (though appropriate silence is important).
      • Possible prayer services:
        • The Liturgy of Hours – particularly morning and evening prayer; it is possible to download copies of each celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours from http://www.liturgyhours.org. It is set up by day/date and prayer hour. It prints out in booklet format ready to be copied. The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours may be led by a layperson if a priest or deacon is not in attendance.
        • It would be most appropriate to preach during this time on the Eucharist.
        • Liturgy of the Word – some examples are in Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist.
        • A public recitation of the Rosary. “Given the close relationship between Christ and Our Lady, the Rosary can always be of assistance in giving prayer a Christological orientation, since it contains meditation of the Incarnation and the Redemption.” (Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy, no. 165). Recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or other chaplets/litanies centered on the Eucharist can also be appropriate.
    • The time of solemn adoration should end with Mass again at a day and time when many parishioners may attend. Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist gives the necessary details for how to end solemn exposition as part of Mass.
  • Considerations to keep in mind
    • During this time, if Mass must be celebrated, then the Blessed Sacrament must be reposed. Mass may not be celebrated while the Eucharist is exposed.
    • Signs of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament
      • Genuflection on one knee
      • Four to six candles are lit during the exposition as at Mass
    • It is important to ensure during the times that the Blessed Sacrament is exposed that there be people praying there. As a general guideline, there should be at least two people at all times with the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
    • There should be a sign-up sheet for the people who will volunteer to remain before the Blessed Sacrament at particular hours.
    • The homilies during Mass should be centered on the Eucharist.
    • Announce to the people the various public prayer times for the people to attend; print out a one page sheet with times and type of service and utilize various forms of media to promote.
    • Music should be a part of these celebrations if at all possible.
    • If there are times when people cannot be in attendance, the Blessed Sacrament may be reposed.
  • A possible structure for a Forty Hours Devotion (only meant as an example)
    • 7 p.m. Thursday Mass
    • 8 p.m. – 7 a.m. (If sufficient people are in attendance, proclamation of Scripture may occur)
    • 7 a.m. Friday Morning Prayer
    • 11 a.m. Friday Daytime Prayer
    • 3 p.m. Friday Scripture Service (possibly Office of Readings)
    • 5 p.m. Friday Rosary
    • 7 p.m. Friday Evening Prayer
    • 8 p.m. – 9 a.m. (If sufficient people are in attendance, proclamation of Scripture may occur)
    • 9 a.m. Saturday Morning Prayer
    • 11 a.m. Saturday Rosary
    • 1 p.m. Saturday Daytime Prayer
    • 3 p.m. Saturday Scripture Service
    • Saturday vigil Mass closes out Forty Hours Devotion
    • Saturday after Mass social celebration

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