Forty Hours Devotion. What is it? This is a special period of continuous prayer during which the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance for adoration. The devotion begins with a Mass followed by continuous adoration over a 40-hour period, and it ends with a Mass or Vespers and Benediction. In the Bible the number 40 is associated with a sacred period of time: the rain at the time of the flood of Noah lasted 40 days and nights, and the Hebrews wandered in the desert for 40 years on the way to the Promised Land. Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning his public ministry. The devotion was promoted by both Saint Philip Neri and Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s. In the United States, Saint John Neumann (1811-1860), bishop of Philadelphia, helped spread the devotion. Schedule of devotion in our parish is here. In the year 1263 a priest from Prague was on route to Rome making a pilgrimage asking God for help to strengthen his faith since he was having doubts about his vocation. Along the way he stopped in Bolsena 70 miles north of Rome. While celebrating Mass there, as he raised the host during the consecration, the bread turned into flesh and began to bleed. The drops of blood fell onto the small white cloth on the altar, called the corporal.
The following year, 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus, Corpus Christi. The Pope asked St Thomas Aquinas, living at that time, to write hymns for the feast and he wrote two, better known to the older members of our congregation, the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. That blood-stained corporal may still be seen in the Basilica of Orvieto north of Rome, and I had the privilege of seeing it during the time I lived in Italy.
There are other Eucharistic miracles throughout the world which have been authenticated by the Church after investigation. All of these are surely an answer to any doubts we may have about Jesus in the Eucharist. Jesus is really with us in the Eucharist.
Do we realize that Jesus comes to us in every Mass under the form of bread and wine? The Eucharist is a celebration of the love of Jesus for us, his blood shed for us in love and his body scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified for us. The wine poured and the bread broken is the love of Jesus for us, body and blood given for us.
Because the Eucharist is the love of Jesus for us we always approach Jesus in the Eucharist with great respect and asking pardon for our sins. “Lord I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Think of how precious a moment in our Mass it is when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion. When we receive Jesus, Jesus is in us and we are with Jesus. It is like what Genesis says about the marriage of man and woman, no longer two but one (Gen 2:24). It is the same when we receive Jesus. We are no longer two but one. “He who eats my flesh abides in me and I in him.” (John 6:57).
I know some find it difficult to believe that bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Jesus. To help us in our weak faith, from time to time, God has given us Eucharistic Miracles so that we may believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Come to Jesus, not like a scientist trying to analyze, but come in trust, surrender, believe and receive his love. Say to Jesus that you believe he is really present in the Blessed Sacrament and gradually grow from merely believing, to loving Jesus, and being loved by Jesus. Come to visit Jesus in the Tabernacle here in church often where you will have a wonderful opportunity to trust, surrender, believe and receive the love of Jesus.
As a symbol of our love for Jesus we will carry him in procession tomorrow night. It is also a symbol of Jesus’ love for us. As Jesus passes you in the Blessed Sacrament adore him, love him and ask him for help. He is waiting for you. Remember the words of the consecration of every Mass recalling Jesus giving himself for us, “This is my Body which will be given up for you….This is the cup of my blood. It will be shed for you…”
May Jesus in the Eucharist always be the very center and heart of our church, the center and heart of our faith, the center and heart of our parish, and the center and heart of the lives of each of us.
O Sacrament most holy,
O Sacrament divine,
All praise and all thanksgiving
Be every moment thine.