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A number of rites and devotions focus on the Eucharist. They help us to become closer to Jesus and to desire to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy. Examples include Benediction and Forty Hours Devotion. During these periods of adoration, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar in a monstrance, a special vessel in which the Eucharist can be viewed and adored.
In this Eucharistic ceremony the priest or deacon places the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. The assembly usually sings a hymn of praise (sometimes “O Salutaris Hostia,” written by Thomas Aquinas). A time of silent prayer follows. Special devotions or Scripture readings are often part of the service. Typically the service ends with a hymn of adoration—often part of the “Pange Lingua” by Aquinas—and then the priest blesses the assembly by making the Sign of the Cross over them with the monstrance.
The practice of exposition and Benediction began in the Middle Ages. People did not receive communion very often, so adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was they way in which they connected with Jesus in the Eucharist. The feast of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ, began during this time. On that feast day the Eucharist was placed in a monstrance and carried in procession. Eventually a custom arose in Germany of keeping the Eucharist exposed to view for a certain period of time in church. In France and elsewhere it became the custom to gather in church after work to sing songs to Mary. Over time the two services merged: songs and chanted prayers accompanied the period when the Eucharist was exposed.
Forty Hours Devotion
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 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.
The Importance of Eucharistic Devotions
Although the Mass is central to Catholic life, devotions to the Eucharist are also important. Through them we can adore Jesus, pray in his presence, express our sorrow for sin, and experience a oneness with him that leads us to participate in the Mass.