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Lent Reflections: 40 Hours of Devotion

The practice of 40 Hours Devotion dates back to 1527, introduced by St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria in Milan and Vicenza, and spread by St. Ignatius and the Jesuits.

St. John Neumann, fourth bishop of Philadelphia, introduced the first Forty Hours Devotion at the Church of St. Philip Neri on May 26, 1853, the Feast of Corpus Christi, in honor of the church’s patron.

In 40 Hours Devotion, the consecrated Eucharist is exposed on the altar in a monstrance for adoration for 40 hours. The tradition is tied to repentance, and usually observed during Lent or Advent

Saint John Neumann started the 40 Hours of Devotion in a time of strong anti-Catholic sentiment, and despite the hostility of the Know Nothing party. Not unlike the persecution the Church is not only seeing today but throughout its history.

Between 1894 and 1924, Muslims decimated the Christian Community in Asia Minor: the number of Christiansfell from 3-4 million to just tens of thousand: from 20% of the area’s population to under 2%. The descendants of Turkey’s Christians, many of them dispersed around the world since the 1920s, maintain that the Turks murdered about half of their forebears and expelled the rest: Turkey’s Armenian, Greek and Assyrian (or Syriac) communities disappeared as a result of a staggered campaign of genocide beginning in 1894, perpetrated against them by their Muslim neighbors. By 1924, the Christian communities of Turkey and its adjacent territories had been destroyed.

The practice of 40 Hours Devotion dates back to 1527, introduced by St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria in Milan and Vicenza, and spread by St. Ignatius and the Jesuits. St. Anthony was an early leader of the Counter Reformation, the founder of religious the Barnabites and a promoter of the devotion to the Passion of Christ, the Eucharist and the renewal of the religious life among the laity.

When the Archdiocese of Milan asked for an indulgence for 40 Hours Devotion in 1539, where Spanish commanding officer Francisco de Sarmiento and his captain refused to surrender. During the siege, the Muslim army suffered heavy losses due to the stubborn resistance of Sarmiento’s men. However, Castelnuovo eventually fell and almost all the Spanish defenders, including Sarmiento, were killed. In this environment, Pope Paul III wrote: “Since our beloved son the Vicar General of the Archbishop of Milan, at the prayer of the inhabitants of the said city, in order to appease the anger of God provoked by the offenses of Christians, and in order to bring to nought the efforts and machinations of the Turks who are pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom, amongst other pious practices, has established a round of prayers and supplications to be offered by day and night by all the qaqqq of Christ, before our Lord’s Most Sacred Body, in all the churches of the said city, in such a manner that these prayers and supplication are made by the faithful themselves relieving each other in relays for forty hours continuously in each church in succession, according to the order determined by the Vicar… We approving in our Lord so pious an institution, grant and remit.”

Fifty years later Pope Clement VIII in his 1592 letter “Graves et diuturnae,” wrote: “To Our Venerable Brothers the Bishops, to the Clergy, and to the Swiss People who enjoy Grace and Communion with the ApostolicP ope Clement V

Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Blessing.

The serious and long-lasting plots and efforts which the new heretics who call themselves Old Catholics use daily in your country to deceive the faithful and to tear them away from their ancient faith, urge Us, as a duty of Our supreme apostolate, to zealously devote Our paternal care and attention to protecting the spiritual welfare of our children. We are aware, and We sorrowfully deplore the fact, that these schismatics and heretics who enjoy the favor of the civil authority exercise the ministry of their wicked sect in the region of the diocese of Basel as in other regions of your country while the religious freedom of Catholics remains publicly oppressed by schismatic laws.”

Pope Clement further declared:
“We have determined to establish publicly in this Mother City of Rome an uninterrupted course of prayer in such ways that in the different churches, on appointed days, there be observed the pious and salutary devotion of the Forty Hours, with such an arrangement of churches and times that, at every hour of the day and night, the whole year round the incense of prayer shall ascend without intermission before the face of the Lord.”

While the Forty Hours Devotion nurtures the love of the faithful for our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, three special dimensions havIe also surrounded this devotion: the protection from evil and temptation; reparation for our own sins and for the Poor Souls in Purgatory; and deliverance from political, material, or spiritual calamities. Here the faithful implore our Lord to pour forth His abundant graces for themselves, and for their neighbors. For their own personal needs, and for those of the world.

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