Young altar servers and clergy follow prayers in English and Polish during the Forty Hours Devotion in St. Hedwig Church.
Young altar servers and clergy follow prayers in English and Polish during the Forty Hours Devotion in St. Hedwig Church.

The reasons parishes choose to hold Forty Hours Devotions are many and varied. Some may uphold the sacred tradition that traces its roots to the early 1500s as a form of prayer for special intentions, while others might use the devotion to mark a particular milestone.

PHOTO GALLERY:Closing of Forty Hours in St. Hedwig Church, Trenton

“It was a wonderful expression of faith, an opportunity to adore and worship Jesus,” Jane Latini said as she recalled the Forty Hours Devotion held last fall in St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, where she is a long-time parishioner and president of the parish’s Altar Rosary Society.

“There were lots of different prayer forms at different times,” she said.

St. Gregory the Great Parish and St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, are but two parishes in the Diocese of Trenton and beyond where Forty Hours Devotions bring faithful together with priests to profess their love of the Savior.

Father Jacek Labinski, pastor of St. Hedwig Parish, Trenton, said, “It is an opportunity to greet brother priests from multiple dioceses on a happy occasion, [and] it is sentimental and spiritual for the people.”

The Forty Hours Devotion is a special period of continuous prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in solemn exposition, recognizing it is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, #11). The number 40 has always signified a sacred period of time: the rains during the time of Noah lasted 40 days and nights; the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years; Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days, and most prominently, the 40 hours from our Lord’s burial on Good Friday until his Resurrection early on Easter Sunday.

“We’ve held the Forty Hours around the [Oct. 16] feast of St. Hedwig for forever,” Father Labinski asserted. “People love to come, and it gets parishioners together.”

Numerous ministries participate in the ornate processions, including young altar servers in robes and children from the Polish school in brightly colored ethnic attire. Hours of silent prayer, a Vespers service and homilies in both the English and Polish languages complete the experience with a strongly old-world flavor.

“We are a Polish parish,” said Father Labinski. “When people come here, they are used to [Forty Hours Devotion] in their parishes in Poland. It is like being not so far from home. It touches the heart.”

Latini, too, recounted the cooperation among ministries to worship nonstop before the Blessed Sacrament as one of the highlights of her parish’s annual Forty Hours Devotion, held over the All Saints / All Souls Day weekend. In addition to opening and closing Masses and Benediction, the devotion featured Morning, Evening and Night Prayer; recitation of the Rosary, and other forms of prayerful worship.

“We welcomed all and asked parish ministry members to sign up as a group,” she said. “Rosarians and school children prayed the Rosary together, we prayed the Angelus, and others recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet.”

Latini especially appreciated the efforts of her pastor, Father Michael McClane, and parochial vicars, as they joined their parishioners in prayer throughout.

It was so lovely to look and see our priests kneeling just a pew away from us,” she said.

Christina Leslie contributed to this story.