‘The Church was torn apart by error; Henry VIII, having dragged the CofE out of communion with every other church in Christendom, was engaged in looting the monasteries. The Turks were menacing Christendom by land and sea. Some might see a parallel with our situation: heresies based upon gender-errors are threatening new schisms; the West is threatened by Terror from the East: although the West which is so threatened is no longer a Christendom. Britishness is defined by our cultural establishment in terms of submission to the zeitgeist: that spirit of the age which requires agreement with the presuppositions of liberal democracy. Censorship crushes attempts to publicize the realities of abortion; a bishop who wonders if some homosexuals might be medically curable can be lectured by a police chief on his duty to promote ‘diversity’. Surely, things are decidedly worse than they were when, in 1537, the devotion called the Quarant’Ore was started in North Italy. The Forty Hours devotion consists of three days and nights of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed, but nowadays the exposition and adoration are usually discontinued during the night. Except that the BCP does not mention monstrances, the devotion is curiously CofE in its use of traditional texts.
Day 1 Mass of Exposition. This is either a votive from the Missal, or the Common Worship mass for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. After the post communion prayer, there is a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament, in the monstrance, while the kneeling congregation sings the hymn Pange Lingua. The monstrance is then placed upon a throne on the altar; Tantum Ergo is sung and the Sacrament censed; then the Litany (surely, it would be wonderful for congregations to hear again Cranmer’s majestic English). Relays of the faithful pray before the Most Holy, and, when the church is to be closed for the night, the Sacrament is replaced in the tabernacle without solemn ceremony. If this is done on a Wednesday, the Prayer Book requirement that the Litany be used on Wednesdays and Fridays will have been fulfilled.
Day 2 The Sacrament is exposed without solemn ceremony. Mass is not to be celebrated before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, so either a different altar will be used or, more probably, the monstrance will be removed before mass begins and replaced after mass. Mass is ‘For Peace’; Calendar, Lectionary and Collects (1995) does provide prayers and readings, and the current Roman Missal has a votive ‘In Time Of War or Civil Disturbance’, but why not use the old Tridentine (English Missal) Mass for Peace; the Collect is the second collect of BCP Evensong (‘God, from whom all holy desires…’); Reading: 2 Maccabees 1.1–5; Gospel: John 20.19–23; Post communion: the second collect of BCP Mattins (‘O God, who art the author of peace…’). Adoration is resumed after mass and discontinued without solemn ceremony when the church is closed for the night
Day 3 The Blessed Sacrament having been exposed without solemn ceremony in the morning, the devotion ends, probably in the evening, with the Mass of Deposition, which is again a votive of the Blessed Sacrament. After the post communion, the Litany is again sung before the Most Holy; it is followed by a procession of the Host (with Pange Lingua) concluding with Benediction.
In a pamphlet promoting this devotion, Fr JR Mckee, of the London Oratory, explained: ‘The object of the Forty Hours’ Prayer is primarily not the satisfaction of the devotion of the faithful towards the Blessed Sacrament and the bestowal upon them of spiritual graces thereby, but the presentation of a great and efficacious appeal to Almighty God, through the sacred humanity of His Divine Son, that He would come to die succour and defence of His Church against the dangers threatening her from within and without. ’