Just before midnight on a Thursday in September, Kathleen Sullivan arrived at St. Andrew, Roanoke, to sit before the Blessed Sacrament in the dimmed church until 1 a.m. the next morning.
Like many other St. Andrew parishioners, Sullivan had signed up to be an “adorer” for one hour during the church’s 40-hour Eucharistic adoration, from Thursday evening, September 21, to Saturday evening, September 23. She wanted the late hour specifically because she had always wanted to sit with the Eucharist during the night.
“I chose this time especially because I am usually sleeping then,” she said. “And the late night and early morning times are sometimes called ‘the Gethsemane hours,’ when Jesus sat in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion.”
Sullivan was one of only four people inside the church at that hour. Her sister, Susan Moore, of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Salem, sat with her. A reader and a door porter also were there. Because all doors at the downtown church are locked from 8 p.m. until 7 a.m., door porters signed up to monitor the side door and admit those arriving for adoration.
“Sitting there in prayer, looking at the beautiful arrangement of flowers and the crucifix above it, I wasn’t tired, but I was very comforted,” she said. “It was so silent, and I loved knowing we were all keeping the Lord company for 40 hours.”
‘First things first: we adored him’
“This is a time when the parish pauses its normal activities and tries to spend a little more time in worship,” said St. Andrew’s pastor, Father Kevin Segerblom.
He added that, while Christ is always present in the church in the tabernacle, and the parish does offer weekly adoration on Thursdays, “This is a longer period of time to focus in a more peaceful way upon our Lord on the altar. It mirrors the 40 hours that Christ’s body lay in the tomb before his resurrection.”
He explained that the extended devotion has a long history, likely begun in the 16th century in Milan. In the U.S. it was first held in the Diocese of Baltimore in the 1850s and began to spread throughout the country a few years later.
It became less common in modern times. “I didn’t grow up with this tradition, having grown up in the ’70s and ’80s,” Father Segerblom said. “But generations before, it would have been a devotion people were familiar with. It’s nice to know it’s having a resurgence.”
The 40 hours began with the opening Mass and exposition of the Eucharist on Thursday evening. There were two Eucharistic services at midday on Friday and Saturday, evening prayer on Friday, morning prayer on Saturday, and a closing Mass on Saturday evening.
Each hour in between offered prayers and readings, along with time for silent adoration. Adorers, readers and prayer leaders followed along with free materials, including printed prayers and schedules, as well as Scripture readings, reflections and writings from the saints in “Magnificat Adoration Companion” booklets.
Deacon Dan Derringer led the Office of Readings on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
On Thursday afternoon before it began, Father Segerblom added, “Whenever I can, when I am not leading prayer, I will be in there, sitting in a pew adoring.”
This is the parish’s second 40-hour Eucharistic adoration. After last year’s, parishioners asked for it again, and many hope it will be offered annually. September seemed a good time because, like the school year, activities have started back up for the parish.
“Last year when we did this for the first time, the common response, especially in the early morning, was how peaceful it was to be at that vigil, not unlike when Jesus asked his disciples to keep watch with him for one hour,” said the pastor.
He also observed that the 40-hour devotion last year had residual blessings that lasted throughout the year.
“I believe we saw great graces in the parish, because we put first things first,” Father Segerblom said. “We adored him.”
‘What a blessing’
Kathy McDaniel, St. Andrew’s pastoral care coordinator, helped organize the 40-hour devotion. She attended for two hours in the afternoons and used the extended adoration as a time to pray the rosary and then sit in silence.
“It helped me get really settled, and after praying my ‘list’ I could let go and just listen,” she said. “That can be really powerful. What a blessing to be able to do that.”
Father Segerblom and parochial vicar Father William Buckley heard confessions on Friday and Saturday.
McDaniel noted that many attendees were grateful Reconciliation was offered during this time. “When you’re at adoration and sitting there quietly, and you’ve given him access to you for that long, many times that will draw people to go to confession,” she said. “Their hearts are moved to take advantage of this sacrament of mercy.”
Aimee Valenzuela, adult faith formation and social ministry coordinator at St. Andrew, also helped organize the devotion. She noted that it was especially fitting to hold another 40-hour devotion during the three-year National Eucharistic Revival.
She explained that the parish has offered other Revival activities, including a parish-wide book study in the summer on “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” as well as a presentation by Father Justin Kizewski on “Spiritual Worship: Living a Eucharistic Existence” on Oct. 15 and 16. Starting in November, there will be a monthly series on “Saints and the Eucharist.” More activities are being developed for the winter and spring.
Valenzuela noted that, because a large number of Catholics struggle with the concept of the real presence in the Eucharist, offering different activities gives people choices. “Adoration is a beautiful option, and really, Jesus does the work. That’s what the Eucharist is for,” she said. “But some people take a more intellectual approach and like to study a book. Others may want to learn how their favorite saints have experienced the Eucharist.”
All of these activities have been well received, noted Valenzuela, who attended herself at 5 a.m. on Friday. “So many people want to share their belief in the real presence of Christ, and they want to help strengthen others’ faith, too,” she said.
A lasting sense of peace
Built in 1902 on a hill near the city center, St. Andrew is known for its Gothic structure, historic significance, magnificent stained-glass images of saints and ornate beauty. Because of this, it is often bustling with visitors as well as parishioners. But during most of those 40 hours in September, it was noticeably subdued.
And, as Sullivan noted, it was special to be there during the late night, when normally the doors are locked and the church is dark except for the candle burning in the red sanctuary lamp on the altar.
Upon leaving the church shortly after 1 a.m., under a crescent moon, Sullivan and Moore were watched over by the door porter – whose offer to walk with them was nice but not necessary, Sullivan said – until they reached their cars across the street.
Sullivan noticed that, after leaving the silence of the church, the silence outside was remarkable as well.
“The city was so quiet at that hour,” she said the next day. “I felt so peaceful as I was leaving, and there is a lingering softness that has stayed with me. I thought, ‘What a nice gift to have spent that time with you, Lord.’”