Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" (Assumption Grotto News, November 12, 2017)
I've been toying with the idea of dropping the annual parish Forty Hours Devotion, beginning next year. The reason would only be lack of patronage. Grotto has offered this period of Eucharistic adoration for as long as anyone can remember. The Forty Hours Devotion reflects a time in the Archdiocese when this was practiced in every parish in its turn. The effect diocese-wide was that somewhere and at all times there was Eucharistic exposition. A lot has happened since those more reverent times. For one thing, Vatican Ii happened and this worldwide devotion was more or less dropped in favor of an indeterminate annual "Eucharistic day" which every parish was encouraged to host. With the decrease of Eucharistic devotion this became a dead letter in most places, though Grotto carried on with the Forty Hours. Suddenly there arose a wave of adoration in special parish chapels where the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed for some hours daily or even around the clock. A boon to adoration this was indeed, but it generally rendered those Eucharistic Days and the Forty Hours superfluous. While several parishes in the archdiocese have adoration chapels, there are almost none that have solemn public days of adoration, let alone the Forty Hours.
Forty Hours procession at St. John Cantius in Chicago
Another factor in the demise of the Forty Hours Devotion was the diminishing number of Catholic schools and the ruination of once highly Catholic neighborhoods around their parishes. The once tighly knit communities that gave rise to the parishes were a boon to adoration of the Holy Sacrament. Distances to the churches then were short and the presence of children in the parish schools supplied a steady stream of adorers.
We've had our parish adoration chapel going for nearly as long as I have been pastor. At one time we had less of a difficulty filling time slots for adoration. We barely succeed in having sufficient worshippers, but their number is small. Our people live far away from the parish and often have access to adoration places closer to home than Assumption Grotto Church. (Most people, however, do not practice a weekly holy hour of adoration.)
In the heyday, Forty Hours was a special celebration for a parish. There were processions and litanies. Altar boys in groups of two were assigned half-hour periods of adoration. A banner was placed over the front church doors of the church which announced to the neighborhood that this was the time of Forty Hours. Sermons on the Holy Eucharist were given. People came in great numbers to the solemn closing ceremony, and dozens of priests participated in it, followed or preceded by a grand dinner for the priests which was a confirmation of priestly fraternity. We have limped on with the Forty hours for a long time through interest wand attendance for it have been dwindling.
There is a Church law which forbids the Holy Eucharist to remain exposed without adorers being present. I'm not wholly sure that this has been honored all the time. Sometimes I or Fr. John or some single person have been the only ones present at a given time.
Having given all that preliminary information, I will assess the success of this year's Forty Hours. I do believe that it gives honor and glory to God, but only if there are people present doing the praying and adoring the Lord.
Forty Hours closing Mass at the London Oratory
Today [Nov. 12th] at the noon Mass we will have the solemn ceremonial as prescribed by the Forty Hours ritual. I hope the three days will be a success and warrant our continued practice of this venerable custom. If not, we will have to bid the Forty Hours Devotion a sad but fond farewell. It had nourished Eucharistic piety in the people of this parish for many generations. Let us see in what direction we must head in the years to come.