I grew up in a parish that had 40 hours devotion. Our family name placed us at around 4 a.m. Mom would wake me from a sound sleep, to put on my “church clothes” and off our family would go. The church was filled with twinkling candles, and the strong scent of incense mixed with lilacs. Glinting in gold and jewels stood the monstrance in its place of prominence; and within it, that tiny little white host – the Divine Presence.
I’ve carried those mystical memories with me all of my life. This year, on our parish feast day of Corpus Christi, we had all night adoration. I decided to revisit my memories by signing up for 3 a.m. I was prepared with my rosary, prayer book, and spiritual reading book. I settled into a pew and began to absorb it all, the glowing candles, the smell of incense, the small white host. The deep silence was disturbed only by an occasional cough or movement. I began to “be” with God, all that was required of me was to keep breathing, in and out. The rosary and books remained unused by my side. As I left, a friend was coming in. We exchanged a silent hug and I stepped out into the breaking dawn feeling refreshed.
Although the Real Presence has been recognized since the time of the apostles, perpetual adoration may have begun in the sixth century in Spain. By the 16th century, the devotion known as 40 hours had developed. In 19th-century France, perpetual adoration developed in communities of contemplative nuns. The devotion eventually spread to parishes throughout the world.
As Catholics, we believe that the reserved Eucharist, hidden under the form of the host, is the living God. Unlike our daily prayer which might be compared to an e-mail to God, praying before the exposed Eucharist is sitting with Jesus, face to face.
What should one do when spending time with the Blessed Sacrament? We can pray using formalized prayers or the Liturgy of the Hours. We might choose a passage from the Bible and ask God to let the passage speak to us. Some people choose to read the life of a saint and pray with him or her, others pray the rosary or bring before the Blessed Sacrament all those who have asked for prayers.
What is most important is not to “do” too much. We are in Jesus’ actual presence, speak to him, adore him or just sit quietly and be with him.
Perpetual adoration chapels in our diocese are located at St. Pius X, Appleton; Good Shepherd, Chilton; Ss. Peter and Paul, Green Bay; Holy Family, Marinette and St. Margaret Mary, Neenah.
Zahorik is director of worship at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh. She has a master’s degree in liturgical studies.