A great and efficacious appeal
Saint Philip Neri is reputed to have introduced the devotion to Rome in 1548. In 1592, Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) regulated the observance of the Prayer for the City of Rome. It is plain from the Papal Constitution, Graves et Diuturnae, that the object of the Forty Hours is not primarily the satisfaction of the devotion of the faithful towards the Blessed Sacrament, but the presentation of a great and efficacious appeal to Almighty God through his Divine Son to aid and defend the Church against the dangers which threaten her within and without. Pope Clement provided for the public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament so that the Forty Hours Prayer in one Roman church succeeded that in another to form a chain of perpetual adoration commencing on the first Sunday of Advent in the chapel of the Apostolic Palace. He granted indulgences to those who assist at the Prayer during the solemn exposition. His successor, Pope Paul V (1605-1621) confirmed all this on 10 May 1606.
“The Clementine Instruction”
Another Pope Clement, the XI (1700-1721), published directions for the observance of the Prayer in the churches of Rome on 21 January 1705. These were republished by yet another Pope Clement, the XII (1730-1740), on 1 September 1736. The document, originally written in Italian, is entitled, “The Clementine Instruction”. The devotion was strictly only of obligation in the Archdiocese of Rome, but the indulgences attached to it were later extended to the world and various decrees of the Congregation of Rites regulated the devotion outside Rome. In 1849, in his Lenten pastoral, Bishop Nicholas Wiseman, last Vicar Apostolic of the London District (later the first Archbishop of Westminster and a Cardinal), speaks of the devotion as being “as yet but little known in this country”. He directs that “throughout the whole of Lent the Most Blessed Sacrament shall remain exposed in one or other of the public churches or chapels of this metropolis”.
The 1962 Missal, for the first time, gives rubrics regulating the Forty Hours Prayer. On the first and last days of the devotion a votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist is sung (the expression used is “in cantu” – a new usage in 1962 which covers both High Mass and Missa cantata) as a votive Mass of the second class. A votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist or a votive Mass for a particular local need may be sung on the second day; formerly the “Clementine Instruction” required a votive Mass for peace to be sung on this day. No doubt, where peace is a special local need, the votive Mass pro pace can still be sung. The Code of Canon Law, can. 942, recommends that in churches and oratories which are allowed to reserve the Blessed Eucharist there is to be each year a solemn exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an appropriate time so that the local community may more attentively meditate on and adore the Eucharistic mystery.
Restoration of the Forty Hours?
The devotion has fallen into desuetude since the late 1960s, although the section of the reformed Roman Ritual which deals with devotion to the Blessed Sacrament mentions the Forty Hours Prayer, and in his letter “On the Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist”, published on 24 February 1980, Pope John Paul II writes: “Adoration of Christ in this sacrament of love also finds expression in various forms of Eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, periods of exposition – short, prolonged and annual (40 hours) – Eucharistic benediction, Eucharistic processions, Eucharistic congresses...” Although His Holiness wrote that over two decades ago and associated it with the Second Vatican Council, (he went on to write: “All this therefore corresponds to the general principles and particular norms already in existence but newly formulated during or after the Second Vatican Council”), we are still waiting for the bishops and clergy of England and Wales – not to mention elsewhere – to restore the Forty Hours Prayer to our churches.