STAMFORD—The alarm goes off at 1:30 am. After a moment of bewilderment, my mind clears with the excitement that it is MY TURN! Jesus awaits me in the chapel at Trinity Catholic High School!
And so goes my first ever experience of the 40 Hours’ Devotion translated from the Italian Quarant’ore. The history of Quarant’ore is both fascinating and powerful! It began as a devotional practice in Milan in the 16th century. It spread to many areas of Europe and in 1592, Pope Clement proclaimed a year of 40 hours’ devotions in Rome to help end a civil war in Europe. This year-long devotion led to a generation of saints in France including St. Francis de Sales who evangelized the Savoy region in France eventually bringing tens of thousands of Catholics back to the faith. Since then, it has been used throughout the world to help bring revival and renewal.
The 40 hours’ time of adoration begins at 3 pm on Friday— the hour of mercy when Jesus was crucified. It ends at 6 am on Sunday—the hour of His resurrection. During the 40 hours, adorers in effect are sitting with Jesus during the time He is in the tomb— waiting with Him, praying with Him, adoring Him. Adorers may sign up for one or multiple hours as they are able.
Trinity’s new chaplain, Deacon Michael Clark, proposed this great event and plans moved forward for Trinity to host Quarant’ore. On the Wednesday morning, before the devotion was to begin, there weren’t nearly enough people signed up to cover the 40 Hours, and there was a momentary thought to cancel this beautiful event. A final push to “get the word out” was made, and within three hours, every single slot had been taken. It truly was a miraculous moment and gave all of us an extra sense of expectation in how God would use this opportunity to bring renewal and revival to our community.
We began with exposition at 3 pm and the Litany of the Saints sung by Deacon Michael. Many of the seminarians who are next door neighbors to Trinity at St. John Fisher Seminary participated. At 4 pm on both Friday and Saturday, Vespers were sung and at 6 am on Saturday and Sunday, Lauds were sung. In between these hours, many adorers came to “stay awake” with Jesus.
Because of Deacon Michael’s attention and prayerful approach to each detail, the beauty of the chapel was extraordinary with nearly 100 votive candles, beautiful candelabras and flowers. The chapel was only lit by candlelight through the night, adding to the solemn beauty.
But most moving of all was the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, available to each adorer for 40 hours straight in the monstrance. In the book In Sinu Jesu, a monk experiences conversations with Jesus over a few years beginning in 2007. Jesus expresses to this monk His deep sadness that many people, including priests, have lost the sense of His Real Presence in the Eucharist. Jesus explains that the time spent in adoration will have remarkable and far-reaching effects. Coming before His Eucharistic Face opens our hearts and minds to Him and His grace, His very life which He gives to each of us.
As I sat before Jesus, I read these words of His from the book, “I am here to console you, to comfort you and instruct you, to give you an experience of My divine friendship already here in this life so as to prepare you for the glories of friendship in the next. In this Sacrament, I wait for you. So many emphasize that they must wait for me, and yet I am already present, close to them, and disposed to reveal to them the secrets of my heart. They forget that it is I who wait for them to come to me. How often did I say to my disciples, “Come to Me.” They understood, at least most of them did, the intensity of my longing for the company of souls. I would have all souls come to me and remain with me.”
Coming to Him in the daytime of Quarant’ore was a beautiful and peaceful time in prayer, but there was something powerfully different coming to Him in the dark of the night. I signed up for the 2-4 am slot, not realizing that it would be hard to fall asleep because of the excitement to be with Him and the worry of oversleeping. In Adoration, the Blessed Sacrament must never be exposed without at least one adorer present. And of course after spending time with Jesus – who would be able to sleep! But the sacrifice of no sleep made the time with Him even more precious— to give just a small fraction of something to the One who gave it all for me! To come to Him in the quiet beauty, in candlelight, in silence, in stillness was a transformative experience. The removal of most sight and sound allowed my heart to open even more to His presence—to all the fullness of God dwelling before me within the very simple host.
The two hours were spent mostly alone before my Lord and my God, and His Heart spoke to mine as pages and pages poured out into my journal. Here is an excerpt from those pages, “Jesus, you have told me that I cannot come to you in my perfection—that does not exist. The only thing I can truly bring to you for you to take from me is my sin. Jesus—how hard these words are—to love you so much—to want to bring my best to you— and yet it is you who create my best and it is I who create my sin. Lord—I want to be with you so much I ache. Here in this chapel, there is so much beauty. Your presence permeates the very air. Why can’t life be filled with this beauty? Oh but it is, says Jesus. It truly is. But you have to see it with different eyes. There is beauty in the struggle, in the wounds, in the tears and heartache and longing. There is beauty in the journey because I am with you in it all.”
Time passed quickly, and I was so startled when the next adorer arrived to relieve me. I didn’t want to leave, and only the thought of the powerful experience I had had as the sole adorer compelled me to stand and to leave the incredible beauty of His Real Presence before me so that Joe could have that same experience.
We closed Quarant’ore with Sung Lauds, the Litany of Saints, a Eucharistic Procession into the school and finally Benediction. Most of the seminarians returned to Trinity Sunday morning in cassock and surplice to worship and adore. The chapel glowed with the dawn, with beautiful candlelight and with the many faces who returned to the chapel, glowing from having been in the Real Presence of Jesus over the 40 hour period.
St. Catherine of Siena wrote, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Being with Deacon Michael in this most solemn celebration and praying of the Litany of the Saints was a remarkable experience. It was a moment of seeing someone truly glorifying God with the incredible gifts he has been given. Having left home at eight years old to sing in a professional boys’ choir in England, Deacon Michael has devoted most of his life from a very young age to sing for the church with his exceptional voice. It is so much a part of who he is, and it was a tremendous privilege to participate with him in this extraordinary devotion.
Deacon Michael reposed the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle, and not a soul moved. No one wanted to leave the chapel which had truly become a glimpse of heaven in those 40 hours. Quarant’ore had created a sense of community among the adorers, and to celebrate the end of the devotion, and to celebrate Deacon Michael’s birthday, we all went out for breakfast at the local diner.
Having heard of the remarkable effects of the 40 Hours’ Devotion on a community, perhaps I am making the mistake of looking for immediate results…or am I? “God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). For God, it doesn’t necessarily take weeks for “fruit” to be seen. And indeed, Monday morning’s celebration of Sung Lauds quickly came at 7 am.
When I walked into the chapel, the smell of all of the incense used throughout the weekend still lingered. I imagined that just as thirsty wood soaks in stain, so did the chapel soak in not only the incense but the fervent prayers prayed throughout the weekend. And my own soul had marinated in His Presence throughout the weekend and had soaked in, filled up and was overflowing! Even as I looked for transformation on the outside in the community, I know that each adorer has experience transformation on the inside in the coming to Him and receiving His love and His rest.
Just as we were going to begin Sung Lauds at 7 am, a sophomore student entered the chapel saying, “I woke up early and decided to come to school. For some reason, I felt compelled to come to the chapel.”
“Fruit?” I thought to myself. May the lingering effects of the prayers prayed, of His grace and mercy flowing out from the chapel draw more and more to Him. I have left the 1:30 am alarm listed on my phone as a way to remember and in the hopes that one day soon, another parish will organize Quarant’ore – and I will once again prepare to be with Him in the quiet of the night, knowing that Jesus awaits me!
Liz Sweeney is a parent of one current student and two alumni of Trinity.