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Forty Hours Devotion


A continuous period of public prayer "before the face of the Lord" recommended by Pope Clement VII in Graves et diuturnae (1592). "Forty Hours" seems to have originated in Milan (ca. 1527), where the devotion (involving Masses, eucharistic exposition, processions, litanies and special prayers) rotated through the city's numerous churches, creating a year-round cycle of prayer and supplication. In 1731, Clement XII republished, in Italian, the instructions for Forty Hours ceremonies to be followed as issued two decades earlier by Clement XI. While this "Clementine Instruction" was of obligation only in Rome, its use elsewhere was encouraged.

Forty Hours remained popular until the late 20th century. By decree of June 21, 1973 the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a revised ritual, "Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass" (HCWE). HCWE does not specifically mention the Forty Hours Devotion. Instead, it simply recommends with the local Ordinary's consent and when suitable numbers of people will be present, in churches where the Eucharist is regularly reserved solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament once a year for an extended, even if not strictly continuous period of time. "This kind of exposition," says HCWE 82, "must clearly express the cult of the blessed sacrament in its relationship to the Mass. The plan of the exposition should carefully avoid anything which might somehow obscure the principal desire of Christ in instituting the eucharist, namely, to be with us as food, medicine, and comfort." When continuous exposition is not possible because of too few worshipers, the Blessed Sacrament may be replaced in the tabernacle during the scheduled periods of adoration, but no more often than twice each day (HCWE 88). The Host should be consecrated in the Mass which immediately precedes the exposition and after Communion placed in the monstrance upon the altar. Mass ends with the prayer after Communion, and the concluding rites are omitted. The priest then may locate the Blessed Sacrament on an elevated, but not too lofty or distant throne, and incense it (HCWE 9394). Prayers, scriptural readings, religious silence, homilies or exhortations, congregational singing, and part of the Liturgy of the Hours should be employed during the exposition (HCWE 9596). This extended exposition is interrupted for Masses celebrated through that period.

[n. d. mitchell]

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