A History of the 40 Hours Devotion, by Henri de Villiers

A warm thanks to Henri de Villiers and the Schola Sainte Cécile for permission to publish this translation of “Les Quarante-Heurs: Histoire et Liturgie.” Also published today on New Liturgical Movement.

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Forty Hours at the London Oratory

The Forty Hours refers to a period of devout prayer sustained by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed on the altar of a church for 40 hours. Traditionally, this form of prayer takes place in the hours that precede the beginning of Lent, from Quinquagesima Sunday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, but it may be arranged at other times of the year as well.

HISTORY. During Holy Week the faithful used to keep vigil in the churches before a representation of Christ’s sepulchre from the time of his death—at None of Good Friday—until His resurrection, which is celebrated by the Paschal procession in the early morning of Easter: a period of around 40 hours in total. In many places, the clergy lay the Body of Christ to rest in a tomb along with a host after the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday, and it was this host that was taken from the tomb and led in solemn procession to be placed triumphantly on the altar on the morning of Easter. This symbolic number of 40 hours spent by Christ in death harkens back to an old tradition already reported by St. Augustine (De Trinitate IV, 6): Ab hora ergo mortis usque ad diluculum resurrectionis horae sunt quadraginta, ut etiam ipsa hora nona connumeretur. Cui numero congruit etiam vita eius super terram post resurrectionem in quadraginta diebus.

“From the hour, then, of His death to the dawn of the resurrection are forty hours, counting in also the ninth hour itself. And with this number agrees also His life upon earth of forty days after His resurrection” (Source: New Advent). [We should keep in mind that the ancient form of reckoning the hours does not correspond to our current practice of counting hours with a fixed 60-minute duration].

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The Forty Hours, church of Bottanuco

The veneration of Christ in the tomb—which in many parts of medieval Europe became a veritable military guard of the Eucharistic Body at the tomb awaiting the resurrection—was repeated outside of Holy Week beginning in the 16th century, in response to the Protestant denial of the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacred Host outside the Mass.

The Forty Hours—at first considered as an exceptional devotion—appeared in Milan in 1527 amidst wars and calamity, the sack of Rome and the French invasion of the Duchy of Milan. They were instituted by Giovanni Antonio Bellotti for the beginning of each trimester until 1529. In 1537, the Milanese Capuchin Giuseppe da Ferno took up the practice and made of it a series of solemn prayers with a Eucharistic procession: when one parish ended its Forty Hours, another took its place, such that the Holy Sacrament was adored perpetually (this practice is the origin of perpetual adoration). St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria (1502 † 1539), the founder, also at Milan, of the Clerks Regular of St. Paul (the Barnabites) promoted them with great zeal.

Quarante-Heures-à-Arrone-en-Italie
The Forty Hours at Azzone in Italy

The Capuchins and Barnabites rapidly diffused the Forty Hours beyond Milan. Giuseppe da Ferno introduced the devotion to Pavia, Siena, and Arezzo during his missions there in 1537-1539, and his confrere Francesco di Soriano established the custom in Umbria. In 1550, St. Philip Neri introduced them in Rome and had the custom of organising them at the beginning of each month in the various churches of the Confraternities he directed, among which was the Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. At Messina, besieged by the Turks in 1552, it was the Jesuits who organized them to beg for and obtain the liberation of the city. Beginning in 1556, the Jesuit order was used to making the Forty Hours prayer from Quinquagesima Sunday to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, in order to expiate the faults committed during Carnival.

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The Forty Hours Machine at the church of Bienno, Italy

In 1575 the archbishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, in a pastoral letter of wondrous eloquence on the sacredness of Septuagesima, deplores the sad state of those lukewarm Christians who use these precious days so poorly, when they should be giving themselves over especially to prayer and good works. To that end, he ordered the organization of Forty Hours in the largest diocese of Europe: the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed for three days before Lent, in the cathedral of Milan, and in thirty other churches in the city; in the morning and evening there would be a solemn procession, and the parish priests would distribute the hours of the day for their parishioners, in such a way that there would always be a large number of adorers before the Most Holy Sacrament.

Quarante-Heures-de-la-paroisse-de-Colere-Italie
The Forty Hours machine of the parish of Colere in Italy

On the 25th of November 1592, Pope Clement VIII, in the Constitution Graves et diurturnae, organized the Forty Hours in the city of Rome in the form in which it had been done previously by Giuseppe da Ferno: in a continuous manner, the prayers would begin in one Roman Church just as they ended in another. The Pope asked that the prayer of Forty Hours be made for three intentions:

  1. For the salvation of the Kingdom of France, at that time rent by the succession of Henry III,
  2. for the victory of Christianity against the Turks,
  3. for the unity of the Church.

The pope began this series of prayers on the 30th of November 1592 at the Sistine Chapel.

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Neapolitan machine

Pope Clement XI (1700 † 1721) published, on 21st January 1705, several directives for the maintenance of this observance in the churches of Rome. But it was Pope Clement XII (1730 † 1740) who published them on 1st September 1731, in the form of an instruction in Italian, the Clementine Instruction, which fixed the liturgical order of the Forty Hours devotion in Roman churches. The Clementine Instruction was not, strictly speaking, rigorously obligatory anywhere but in the Eternal City, but the general rules that it established gained currency everywhere through the rubrics and decisions of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (n°2403). Stercky calls it “an excellent treatise on the exposition of the Holy Sacrament” to which one ought to refer and conform in all the dioceses of the Roman Rite.

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Notice of Cardinal Noailles for the Forty Hours at Paris (1725). Download

THE FORTY HOURS IN FRANCE. France was not to be outdone by Italy, for from 1574 a Jesuit, Father Auger, had received the permission of the Archbishop of Paris to organize the Forty Hours in all the churches of our capital, despite the strong opposition of the Curé of Saint-Eustache. From Paris, the Forty Hours devotion spread rapidly throughout all France. We find them at Rouen in 1584 and 1589, at Isle-sur-Sorgue and at Lyon in 1593, at Avignon in 1596, at Annemasse in 1597, at Thonon in 1598, at Marseille in 1599, at Gap in 1604, etc… The Forty Hours were celebrated with great solemnity in the context of preaching missions, at the initiative of the Capuchins to encourage the faithful who had been seduced by Protestantism to return to the Church, and to strengthen the faith of the neophytes. The Forty Hours in our country become a veritable “war machine” of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, drawing huge crowds (100,000 persons at Gap in 1618 for example) and inspiring numerous conversions, by bringing together all the arts (extraordinary decorations and majestic musical pieces were employed on every occasion) to magnify the Holy Eucharist.

In his brief Sacri apostolatus ministerio, Pope Gregory XV (who reigned 1621 to 1623) exhorts the archbishops and bishops of France to organize the Forty Hours devotion throughout the realm, for “the success of the royal enterprise against the heretics of the realm, the extirpation of heresies and the exaltation and peace of our Holy Mother the Church.” This brief granted a plenary indulgence to French faithful who, after having confessed and received communion, prayed for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff (this indulgence was made general for the whole Catholic world by Pius XI in 1931). Shortly afterwards, in 1625, Pope Urban VIII gave French Capuchins who heard confessions during the Forty Hours (and afterwards to other missionary orders) wide powers of absolution reserved ordinarily to bishops, something that contributed not a little to the success of many Capuchin missions—always accompanied by a magnificent Forty Hours—all throughout the 17th century in our country (the faithful preferred to come en masse to make their confessions to passing missionaries rather than to their parish priest, who—in cases reserved for the bishop—could not give them absolution!).

In 1617 at Cahors, the crowds of people desiring to assist at the Forty Hours celebrated in the church of the Jesuits were so numerous that it led to riots. At Gap in 1628—where the Forty Hours led to the recanting of 1,500 Protestants—“heretics who came from the highest mountain reaches of the Dauphiné, upon entering the church and seeing the great pomp and magnificence, illuminated with so many lights in honor of the Most Holy Sacrament that was exposed, cast themselves to their knees, believing themselves to be in paradise and crying aloud: Praised be the Roman Church which is so wonderful, and not the temple of those ministers which by comparison are like the stables of beasts!” (Archives departementales de Hautes-Alpes, 3H2, 1, p. 89, cited in Bernard Dompiner, Un aspect de la dévotion eucharistique dans la France du XVIIème siécle: les prières des Quarante-Heures, Revue d’histoire de l’Eglise de France, 1981, Vol. 67, n. 9178, p. 17).

The Forty Hours were celebrated throughout the year in Capuchin missions, as in Italy, and the custom very rapidly grew of having them in Quinquagesima for the three final days before Lent. At Paris, the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet had an annual celebration of Forty Hours during Quinquagesima starting in 1616. Several of the parish’s acts between 1628 and 1637 indicate that the Forty Hours there were a grandiose prelude to Lent, coupled with an invitation to confession and communion. The acts describe in great detail how these solemn devotions were carried out at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet: the bell-towers rang out as on first class feasts, the main altar was decorated with reliquaries, paintings, a great number of candles, “and other pious and sacred ornaments,” “all with the dress, ornaments, ceremonies, and solemnity of a solemn feast as on the day of Corpus Christi itself, and even beyond, were it possible.” The Paris Province of the Capuchins decided to organize the Forty Hours during Quinquagesima of 1621-1622. But it was the French Jesuits—and St. Jean-François Régis (1597 † 1640) in particular—who generalized the Italian custom of their Society of making the Forty Hours in Quadragesima as a prelude to Lent.

Quarantes-Heures-au-sanctuaire-de-San-Francesco-de-Geronimo
1956- Forty Hours in the sanctuary of San Francesco de Gironimo

The French Revolution dealt a heavy blow to the Forty Hours in our country, and it seems that the custom of making them became less usual in the course of the 19th century. One indication of this disaffection is found in the various ceremonials and manuals of liturgy published in the course of that century in France, where it is unusual to find a description of the ceremonies of the Forty Hours. The Religious Week of the diocese of Lyon notes in 1911 that “in our diocese, it is never possible to observe the Clementine Instruction to the letter, and to make the Forty Hours without interruption either in the day or the night” (p. 218). It is probable that the Second World War dealt an even more serious blow to this tradition, which has nevertheless remained lively in the United Kingdom and Italy up to our times, including in the new rite.

THE FORTY-HOURS MACHINES. In order to heighten the solemnity of the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during the Forty Hours, the piety of the faithful, allied with the whole decorative genius of the Baroque age invented marvelous temporary constructions to form an elevated throne for the monstrance and decorated it with a great many candles. These temporary constructions for the three days of the exposition earned the name “Forty Hours Machines” (Macchine della Quarantore in Italian). The first machine seems to have been conceived by the Jesuits in Rome. The greatest architects and artists collaborated in their construction, which testifies to the extraordinary piety of our fathers. In 1633 Nicolas Poussin received the commission for the Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Adoration of the Magi to beautify the Forty Hours of a Roman oratory.

Here we can see the machine designed in 1650 for the Jesuits’ Forty Hours devotion in the church of the Gesù in Rome:

Quarante-Heures-en-1650-dans-léglise-jésuite-du-Gesù-à-Rome

Here we have an engraving representing Pope Pius VI in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament placed on the extraordinary Forty Hours machine designed by Bernini himself for the Vatican:

Quarante-Heures-pour-le-Vatican-conçue-par-le-Bernin-gravure-de-Desprez.jpg

Louis-Jean Desprez (Auxerre, 1743 – Stockholm, 1804) and Francesco Piranesi (Rome, 1758/9 – Paris, 1810) – “Pius VI in adoration in the Pauline Chapel during the ceremony of the Forty-Hours,” around 1783-1785. Watercolour and gouache (Desprez) over an engraving (Piranesi). Source: La Galerie Tarantino, which we heartily thank for this iconographical support.

Here are four more designs of Forty Hours machines from the 17th century:

  • The first bears a manuscript note indicating that the machine held 140 candles.
  • The second is a plan for the decoration of a Forty Hours. Rome, end of the 17th century. Source: Galerie Tarantino.
  • The third is a decoration project for the Forty Hours showing the “Return of the explorers from the land of Canaan” by Giacinto Calandrucci (a student of Maratta), sold to the National Gallery in Washington (the explorers had taken 40 days to explore Canaan).
  • Beneduci di Orzinuovi—design for a machine for the Forty Hours.

Quarante-Heures-XVIIème-siècleQuarante-Heures-Rome-fin-du-XVII.jpgQuarante-Heures-avec-le-Retour-des-explorateurs-du-pays-de-Canaan-par-Giacinto-CalandrucciQuarante-Heures.jpg

This is a video of the Forty Hours machine belonging to the Church of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Rome, still in use today (but only for the Altar of Repose on Good Friday). Built in 1848, it boasts 231 candles. It is the work of one Luigi Clementi, which according to the archives cost 500 scudi for the woodwork and 50 more for the gilding.


SYMBOLISM OF THE NUMBER 40
– The number 40 is mentioned many times in Scripture, and often in relation to an encounter with God. We list the principal occurrences below:

  • The rain of the Deluge lasted 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4, 12, 17). At the end of 10 months of the Deluge, the waters began to recede and after 40 days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark (Genesis 8:6).
  • Isaac (Genesis 25:20) and Esau (Genesis 26:34) were married at the age of 40.
  • Moses stayed 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai in the presence of God without food or drink, and at the end of this period he received the tables of the Law (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9,11, 18, 25; 10:10).
  • Moses’ messengers explored the land of Canaan in 40 days (Numbers 13:26), then Israel was condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14:33-34; 32:13; Exodus 16:35; Deuteronomy 8:2–4; Joshua 5:6).
  • In the Mosaic Law the number of stripes given to punish a criminal could not exceed 40 (Deuteronomy 25:3; II Corinthians 11:24).
  • The reigns at the apogee of the Jewish kingdom, that of David (I Samuel 29:27) and that of his son Solomon (1 Kings 11:42), both lasted 40 years.
  • The prophet Elijah crossed the desert during 40 days to meet God on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8).
  • The prophet Jonah calls Nineveh to repent under pain of destruction at the end of 40 days (Jonah 3:4).
  • Our Lord Jesus Christ was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem, in conformity with the Law of Moses, 40 days after his birth (the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin on the 2nd of February – Luke 2:22; Exodus 13:2, 11-16; Leviticus 12:2-4, 6-8).
  • Christ began His public ministry with a fast of 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:1-2; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-2), and His Ascension took place 40 days after the Resurrection (Acts 1:3), which, according to a tradition recorded by St. Augustine (cf. supra De Trinitate 46), took place after he passed 40 hours in death.

LITURGICAL RUBRICS. The Forty Hours devotion is regulated by the Clementine Instruction, promulgated in 1731 by Pope Clement XII based on a prior version published by Pope Clement XI in 1705. This document is cited in the ninth place in the official list of liturgical books of the Roman Church (Sacred Congregation of Rites, n°4266 of 17th May 1911).

The instruction is divided into 37 paragraphs which offer a succinct presentation of the liturgical rules for the celebration of the Forty Hours:

General Rules

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Forty Hours at the London Oratory
  • An external sign (a shield or a banner) must be hung to the main door of the church where the Blessed Sacrament is solemnly exposed. This sign must include a symbol of the Blessed Sacrament, in order that the people may know that the Forty Hours are being carried out in this church.
  • The altar or place of exposition must not display any relics of saints or funeral symbols. It is usually the high altar of the church. If there is a painting on the reredos of the high altar, it must be covered up with a white or red sheet. Likewise for the statues of saints that decorate the altar (but not those of angels holding candelabra).
  • An elevated throne must be placed atop the altar where the monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament will be placed. White curtains (with golden trims, Barbier de Montault adds) forming a canopy may be used, especially is the throne is not covered.
  • The frontal and decorations of the altar must be white, and must never conceal the monstrance.
  • Flowers must never be placed before the tabernacle. Flowers are not prohibited, but must be arranged discreetly. They are not used in Rome.
  • It is appropriate that a minimum of 20 candles burn permanently at this altar, both by day and by night.
  • No lights may be placed behind the Host to try to make it shine.
  • The windows of the church near the altar can be covered, the ideal being that the altar candles shine amidst the shadows, in order to inspire concentration and prayer.
  • A kneeling-bench is to be prepared and placed for the adoration of the clergy at the bottom of the steps of the altar of exposition after the Mass of exposition and the procession are finished. This bench can be covered in red or green.
  • Reservation of the Eucharist—if It is usually reserved at the altar of exposition—must take place at another altar. In any case, communion cannot be received at the altar of exposition.
  • The church bells must ring solemnly the evening before the start of the exposition at the Angelus, then a half-hour before sundown, and one hour thereafter. During exposition, the church bells must ring every hour, during the night as well as the day.
  • The Blessed Sacrament must not be visible from the street during Adoration (to avoid blasphemy, especially during Carnival time). A sheet is to be hung before the entry if necessary, in order to hide the view to the exposition altar from the street.
  • Although the Forty Hours are held by custom beginning on Quinquagesima Sunday, one may also celebrate them at any time of the year except during the Paschal Triduum, when they are, of course, prohibited. Nevertheless, if while the Forty Hours are taking place, one is to hold the blessing of candles and procession of Candlemas, the distribution of ashes and procession of Ash Wednesday, or the blessing and procession of Palm Sunday, the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament must be interrupted throughout the length of these ceremonies and resumed thereafter. Specific rules also exist in the case where the Forty Hours are held during the 2nd of November.

Rules for the Clergy and the Laity

  • Two members of the clergy must always be present in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
  • They may not use the stole whilst they adore.
  • The clerics that look after the lighting must always be in surplice. Laymen may supply for these clerics, in the condition of donning a cassock and surplice while they care for the candles.
  • One must genuflect on both knees every time one enters or leaves the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, and each time one passes before It.

Celebration of the Mass

  • Mass shall not be celebrated at the altar of exposition, except on the first day for the Mass of Exposition (even though exposition does not “technically” begin until after the procession that follows this Mass) and on the third day for the Deposition.
  • The Masses of Exposition (on the first day) and of Deposition (on the third day) shall be solemn votive masses of the Blessed Sacrament (with Gloria and Credo), sung with sacred ministers (deacon and subdeacon), unless these votive masses are impeded by the mass of the day. On impeded days, the mass of the day shall be said with a commemoration of the Blessed Sacrament under one conclusion. Nevertheless, the frontal of the altar of exposition and the humeral veil shall always be white, whatever the colour of the mass being celebrated.
  • On the second day a solemn votive mass with sacred ministers shall be celebrated, for peace or some other necessity (with Gloria unless the mass is in violet vestments), following the bishop’s instructions.
  • This mass of the second day shall not be celebrated at the altar of exposition or at the altar where the rest of the hosts are reserved.
  • During the exposition, no Requiem Mass may be said.
  • The frontal of the altar of exposition shall always be white, whatever the colour of the Mass or Office of the day.
  • When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, the use of a bell during low masses is prohibited. It is appropriate that its use be also prohibited during solemn masses.
  • It is likewise prohibited to take any collection in the church whilst the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, or to set up special collection boxes.
  • Sermons during the Forty Hours are not encouraged, but if they nevertheless take place, they must be brief and may only be about the Eucharist; the preacher is not permitted to use a biretta or stole. The preacher must stand sideways by the altar of exposition in such a way that none of the faithful need turn his back to this altar.

Particular Features of the Mass of Exposition

  • The altar is prepared before Mass for Exposition but only the usual six candles are to be lighted at the beginning of the Mass. The altar cross remains at its place. A corporal may be placed at the throne of exposition if the latter is in a different place from the altar cross. The montrance is to be prepared, covered by a white veil, as well as the book used for the final prayers after the procession (they are found in the Rituale Romanum, for example). The canopy, two candles to be borne during the procession, and two thurifers for the same shall also be prepared.
  • During this mass of the first day, the celebrant consecrates two large hosts, one of which will be exposed.
  • The monstrance is placed over the corporal after communion.
  • From the moment when the second large host is placed in the monstrance by the deacon, the rest of the mass is celebrated following the rubrics for a Missa coram Sanctissimo:
    • The celebrant and ministers genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament each time they approach It or leave the area of the altar.
    • When the celebrate or deacon address the people (for the Dominus vobiscum, Ite Missa est, and the final blessing), they stand sideways at the gospel corner in order to avoid giving their backs to the Most Holy Sacrament.
    • During the course of the Last Gospel, the celebrant genuflects at the Et Verbum caro factum est turning towards the Body of the Lord.
  • After the Last Gospel, the celebrant and his ministers genuflect with both knees at the bottom of the altar steps and then go to the sedilia where they put down their maniples and the celebrant takes of the chasuble in order to put on the cope, always making sure never to turn their backs towards the Blessed Sacrament. The two thurifers come from the sacristy with the candle-bearers. The celebrant imposes the incense, without blessing it, on both thuribles, at the sedilia (the only time the liturgy allows this), assisted by the deacon while the subdeacon lifts the cope. The celebrant and his ministers go to kneel at the foot of the altar and he incenses (with the first thurible) the Blessed Sacrament (like during Benediction), and then takes the humeral veil from the Master of Ceremonies, which the subdeacon fastens. The celebrant goes up the steps with the ministers and kneels. The deacon, having genuflected on the footpace, takes the monstrance and gives it to the kneeling celebrant. Whilst this is happening, the procession is formed.

Procession of the Blessed Sacrament
It is very similar to the Corpus Christi procession.

  • The singers intone the hymn Pange lingua and the procession sets out.
  • The confraternities must walk before the cross and clergy.
  • The cross-bearer wears a surplice (and not a tunicle) and is accompanied by two acolytes followed by the singers.
  • Eight priests or clerics must walk before the canopy. All have their heads uncovered and they may not wear a skull cap for health reasons.
  • Everyone (clergy and laity) carry candles in honour of the Blessed Sacrament, which they hold with their external hand.
  • The clerics who are parati may only use white vestments.
  • During the course of the procession, boys and girls are not allowed to perform tableaux vivants about the saints (this was done a lot in France during the 17th century).
  • The clergy carry the canopy. Nevertheless, most honourable magistrates can take over from them by carrying the poles of the canopy, but only outside the church.
  • The two thurifers ahead of the canopy must continually incense the Blessed Sacrament without turning themselves.
  • The celebrant, even a bishop, must walk and carry the monstrance in his hands, and not with the aid of a machine.
  • All bells must ring during the procession, not only those of the church, but also those near which the procession shall pass. The procession may also be done inside the church (in which case it will turn right when leaving the choir to take the side aisle, and then take the central aisle).
  • If the route is to be long, one or two altars of repose can be set up.
  • When returning to the altar when the exposition shall take place, the deacon takes the monstrance from the celebrant and places it on the throne of exposition. The two last stanzas of the hymn Pange lingua are then sung: Tantum ergo and Genitori Genitoque.
  • The officiant imposes the incense and thurifies the Blessed Sacrament as usual.
  • Two singers then come to kneel in the middle of the choir and begin the Litany of the Saints. Everyone remains kneeling. After the Litany, the celebrant, who remains kneeling, entones the Pater noster which is continued in silence. The singers then intone psalm 69, Deus in adjutorium meum intende, which the choir takes up antiphonally. Then the celebrant sings the versicles Salvos fac servos tuos and the rest. He rises for the Dominus vobiscum and sings the five collects of the Forty Hours in the ferial tone. After these collects, the celebrants sings the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam, the singers chant the versicle Exaudiat nos omnipotens et misericors Dominus and the celebrant finishes recto tono on a low note: Fidelium animæ per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Then the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament begins.
Messe-de-reposition-des-Quarante-Heures-célébrée-devant-le-Saint-Sacrement-exposé
Forty Hours reposition mass, celebrated with the Blessed Sacrament exposed

Particular Features of the Deposition
Deposition at the end of the Forty Hours is basically identical to the Exposition, with the following order, however: Mass, Litany of the Saints, Procession, end of the Litany (instead of Mass, Procession, Litany of the Saints).

  • The Mass of Deposition must be chanted at the altar of exposition, before the exposed Sacrament, and must, consequently, follow the rubrics for Missa coram Sanctissimo.
  • At the end of the Mass, as at the Mass of Exposition, the celebrant and ministers go to the sedilia to remove their maniples and chasuble; the celebrant puts on the cope. The altar cross (if one was used), the altar cards, and the missal are removed from the altar, a corporal is put out at the center of the same, and the tabernacle key and a white humeral veil are prepared.
  • The sacred ministers and the celebrant kneel on the first step at the bottom of the altar. Two singers, kneeling before the middle of the altar, sing the Litany of the Saints followed by psalm 69. The celebrant sings the versicle up to the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam with its response.
  • Towards the end of the Litany of the Saints, two thurifers go to prepare their thuribles, the procession forms up and candles are distributed to all.
  • When the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam with its response have been sung, the celebrant stands and imposes incense into the two thuribles, without blessing it. He receives the humeral veil and goes up the steps with the ministers. There, the deacon gives the kneeling celebrant the monstrance, as on the first day, and the procession sets out.
  • During the procession, the Pangua lingua is sung, as on the first day of the Forty Hours, and then it returns to the altar. The deacon puts the monstrance atop the corporal at the centre of the altar. The two last stanzas of the Pange lingua (Tantum ergo and Genitori Genitoque) are then sung, and the Blessed Sacrament is incensed as usual during the last stanza.
  • As during Benediction, the singers chant the versicle Panem de cœlo, the celebrant stands to sing the collect of the Blessed Sacrament Deus qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili (without Dominus vobiscum, as usual) and adds the four other prayers of the Forty Hours, as on the first day.
  • As on the first day, after these collects, the celebrant sings the versicle Domine exaudi orationem meam, the singers sing the versicle Exaudiat nos omnipotens et misericors Dominus, and the celebrant finishes recto tono on a low note: Fidelium animæ per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace.
  • The celebrant then gives the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, as usual. The deacon returns the Most Holy Sacrament to the tabernacle, everyone extinguishes their candles, and the clerics return to the sacristy after having genuflected before the altar.

5 thoughts on “A History of the 40 Hours Devotion, by Henri de Villiers

  1. In the city of Braga, since the early 18th century, there has been the practice of having Laus Perene all throughout Lent. The current schedules say that one church will have the Blessed Sacrament for adoration during two consecutive days (no mention of how long the Blessed Sacrament is exposed), with another picking up afterwards. After reading this article, I’ve come to wonder if perhaps this might have originally have been a way to prolong the 40 Hours Devotion all throughout Lent in the city.

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  2. This brings back memories of my Polish ethnic parish in New Haven, CT where the main altar was decorated from floor to ceiling, it seemed, with candles and flowers. I remember one year when, after the Sisters completed the decorations, the pastor said that there were not enough flowers, to get more! – Every Holy Saturday a side altar was transformed into a tomb for Christ with canvas rock formations on which were placed red tulips and red vigil lights. The Bl. Sacrament was reserved in the tabernacle, but below the altar was a statue of Christ entombed. Awesome! The altar boys had regular hours of adoration. During mine, I recall the immigrant women making the stations of the Cross on their knees! Great memories especially in these times of a dirth of true devotion to Our Eucharistic Lord.

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    1. Father, it sounds like you were given a great gift in your Catholic upbringing. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  3. As a retired priest, this brings back in credible memories of my youth in a Polish ethnic parish in New Haven CT of both the elaborate 40 Hours Devotions and the Holy Saturday Eucharistic Sepulcher.

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