By Father Edward McNamara, LC
ROME, 05 November 2013 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In our seminary, every time we have a Holy Hour it goes something like this: 1) exposition, O Salutaris, opening prayer; 2) additional prayers such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, hymns; 3) Tantum Ergo, Divine Praises, Benediction, reposition, closing hymn. Some of us would like to have a simple, silent Holy Hour in the mornings, without the extra prayers. Is this possible, or should some extra devotions and prayers always be added? — S.M., Canada
A: The great promoter of the daily Holy Hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament was the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He carried out this practice, sometimes with great personal sacrifice, for more than 60 years.
It must be remembered, however, that the vast majority of these Holy Hours were made before Christ reserved in the tabernacle and not before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Indeed, the tabernacle is the natural place for such prolonged periods of silent prayer in Christ's presence.
This is a practice that many priests continue today, and many bishops encourage their priests to follow this example.
Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed is also highly recommended, but expositions, especially for relatively short periods, are essentially public acts in which Christ's presence is proclaimed and honored.
One of the first documents in this respect was Eucharisticum Mysterium (1967). Regarding shorter expositions it says in No. 62:
"If the exposition is to be only a short one, then the monstrance or ciborium should be placed on the altar table. If exposition is over a longer period, then a throne may be used, placed in a prominent position; care should be taken, however, that it is not too high or far away.
"During the exposition everything should be so arranged that the faithful can devote themselves attentively in prayer to Christ our Lord.
"To foster personal prayer, there may be readings from the Scriptures together with a homily, or brief exhortations which lead to a better understanding of the Mystery of the Eucharist. It is also good for the faithful to respond to the Word of God in song. It is desirable that there should be periods of silence at suitable times.
"At the end of exposition, Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament is given.
"If the vernacular is used, instead of singing the Tantum Ergo before the blessing, another Eucharistic hymn may be used, as laid down by the episcopal conference."
Except for some minor details this document is the basis for much of the later legislation regarding this form of exposition. Thus the ritual for Eucharistic worship outside of Mass says:
"89. Shorter expositions of the eucharist are to be arranged in such a way that the blessing with the eucharist is preceded by a reasonable time for readings of the word of God, songs, prayers, and a period for silent prayer. Exposition merely for the purpose of giving benediction is prohibited."
Therefore, it would appear fairly clear that for shorter expositions, such as a Holy Hour with exposition, the seminary is following sound liturgical law.
Regarding the activities that can be carried out during these expositions, the "Compendium Eucharisticum" issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2009 makes several suggestions for songs and prayers as well as the possibility of restoring some older customs which had been left out of the ritual.
For example, it has restored the possibility of the exclamation "Panem de caelo praestitisti eis. R. Omne delectamentum in se habentem" after the Tantum Ergo or other song at Benediction and before the prayer "Deus qui nobis sub sacramento …."
It also offers some litanies and prayers to be used during exposition such as the litany of the Sacred Heart, Precious Blood, Jesus Christ Priest and Victim, and the litany Iesu Dulcis Memoria based on an ancient hymn. As well as these, three litanies are offered that were composed in preparation for the Great Jubilee of 2000: the litanies of Our Lord Jesus Christ; of Jesus Christ, God and Man; and of Jesus Our Redeemer. These texts were published by the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee. The texts can be found, among other sources, in the official organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Notitiae 32(1996) 613-618).
Unfortunately, this useful collection of Eucharistic texts has yet to be translated from Latin into most modern languages.
Finally, what we have said does not preclude the possibility of long periods of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. Official documents, however, foresee this possibility above all in the context of prolonged or perpetual expositions in which people take turns in adoring Christ in the monstrance.