The most influential chapter of any book I have ever read has to be the one entitled “The hour that makes my day” in the autobiography of Venerable Fulton Sheen, Treasure in Clay. I remember reading it over twenty-three years ago as a seminarian and being so inspired that I too resolved, from that time on, to make a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day. Apart from the Mass itself, this hour of prayer remains the fulcrum of my day even still.
Recently I gave a talk to a group of promoters of Eucharistic Adoration in my diocese. These are the good folks who are involved in promoting Eucharistic adoration in parishes. During the talk, I mentioned that while it is important to encourage people to commit themselves to regularly spending a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, it is also important to teach and guide them how to make that holy hour. Without this deeper catechesis, we can easily become bored, begin to fidget, and lose sight of what Adoration is all about. Without the necessary spiritual direction and guidance of how to make a holy hour, we can forget that this precious time with the Lord is more about his desire to be with us than our desire to be with him. He is the one who longs for our company more than we long for him: “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mark 14:37). Here I offer a few guidelines of how we can make a holy hour by dividing it into three blocks of twenty minutes.
The first twenty minutes before the Lord really present in the Eucharist is a sacred time of intimacy between us and him. It is a time to just be present to our God who welcomes us and accepts us. In the words of St. John Vianney, it is a time when “I look at Him and he looks at me.” Before the Eucharist is a time when we lean on Jesus’ breast, like John did at the last supper, and allow his heart to speak to ours. This was the episcopal motto of Blessed John Henry Newman: cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart). We begin to grow in our “interior knowledge of the Lord” as we contemplate his words, his life, and his real presence before us (St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 104). Here is the zone into which we are drawn in the first third of our holy hour, where our heart speaks to his. It is also a time when we listen to him and allow him to speak to us. This is a time when we can tell him everything about how we are and how we feel. It is a time to tell him about our day and to ask his help in ways in which we need it. Above all it is a time to thank the Lord for his presence and action in our lives and to adore him for his goodness, truth, and mercy. It is also an opportunity to present to him the things we don’t understand, our sins, failings, and the worries that burden us. In this twenty minutes of our holy hour, we bask in the light of his love that never fails us.
The second twenty minutes can be a time when we intercede for all the people we know and are part of our lives. At this stage of our prayer, we bring to the Lord all who have asked us to pray for them, our families and friends both living and dead. In this time we pray for all we have met in the past day or week, the conversations we had, the things we have said and done. Often during this time in the holy hour, some person will arise in our minds who we feel the Lord is calling us to pray for, reach out to, to contact or to visit. It is also a time to focus on what lies ahead —our next appointment, our next challenge, or perhaps a courageous conversation we need to have with someone to clear the air. In this time of prayer, our hearts are reminded that our call is to love others in Christ’s name, and that the same Lord before us in the Eucharist is the same Lord present in everyone, especially in the least of his brothers and sisters (cf. Matt 25:31ff).
The final twenty minutes can be a time when we pray for the entire human family and the whole universe. So we might pray for persecuted Christians around the world, for the victims of famine, and for an end to conflicts and wars. We might pray for the Church around the world, for the Holy Father on a foreign visit, or for all missionaries away from home. We might pray for the environment and for the care of the earth, thinking of ways to conserve more and consume less. For his beauty revealed in creation, this is a time to thank God for the sun, moon, and stars that were made through his Word present before us in the Eucharist. Finally, we can pray in this time for the peace among all nations for which Jesus lived and died—and that it might become a reality in our troubled world today.
There are many ways of praying and many ways of making a holy hour for “the Spirit blows where it wills” (John 3:8). But sometimes we need a little guidance that helps us to focus. Above is a guide for a holy hour of Adoration before the Lord, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. It starts off with his love for us but ends with a prayer that blesses God for the whole of creation. In this way we exercise our share in Christ’s priesthood that lovingly embraces every individual but extends to the entire cosmos we inhabit.
“O sacrament most holy, O sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!”
Fr. Billy Swan is a priest of the Diocese of Ferns, Ireland. He served for four years as the Director of Seminary Formation at the Pontifical Irish College, Rome. He is currently based at St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford.