A Holy Hour is an hour of time we dedicate to the Lord and ask him to bless with his presence as we make ourselves present and available to him.
The image of an “hour” has been part of the Christian tradition since the very beginning. Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, mournfully asked his disciples, “Could not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)
A Holy Hour is where we honor that request and place ourselves before our Eucharistic Lord, fully present in the tabernacle or in a monstrance for our adoration. We join our own prayers, works, joys and sufferings with his and “by the mercies of God, present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1).
How Do We Do This?
There are lots of ways to make a Holy Hour. All it requires is yourself, as present as you can be to God. When you do this, our Eucharistic Lord always does with us what he does with the Eucharist: he takes our lives, gives thanks to his Father, breaks us and offers us as food for the world.
At its most basic, a Holy Hour can be summed up in a simple story. A visitor to a Catholic parish noticed that an old man just sat in the back of the parish with his eyes on the Tabernacle. Finally, curiosity got the better of the visitor and he asked the old man, “What are you doing?”
The man replied, “I look at Him and He looks at me.”
Practicing Christ’s Presence
A perfectly good Holy Hour can be made simply by sitting in the Presence of God. Just pop down to your parish, place yourself in front of the Tabernacle or Monstrance, and be. Quietly allow the silence: just you and Jesus, sitting and looking at each other. Some Catholics have jokingly described this simple exercise as “spiritual radiation therapy”, because being in the presence of Christ with a heart open to his love will change and heal you.
You may find, for instance, that simply trying to be silent is something that is much harder than it may seem. A great many voices inside us try to fill the silence. Talk to Jesus about them. Are they voices that need to be listened to or voices that need to hush for now while you listen to Jesus? As this process goes on, you discover the truth of something Pope John Paul II pointed out: that Jesus doesn’t simply reveal the Father to us. He reveals us to ourselves. As you continue this form of Holy Hour continue to hand over to Jesus all the chatter inside of you while asking him to make clear to you some simple practical way you can obey him today. Offer than act of obedience to him and ask him to bless and guide it. If necessary, jot it down so you don’t forget it. When your hour is up, go and do it.
Another way to make a Holy Hour is to set it aside for meditation on Scripture. One ancient and popular way is through Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina consists of four parts:
Meditatio (Meditating on the Scripture)
Oratio (Conversing with God about the Scripture)
Contemplatio (Contemplating God himself in light of Scripture)
In the Lectio portion, you read a portion of the word of God (say, today’s Mass readings, for instance), paying special attention to each word and looking for the connections between the passages you are reading. If you are using Mass readings, the connections should be fairly easy to find since the readings are generally chosen because they related to one another in some way. Think of lectio as harvesting the grapes
In Meditatio, you begin squeezing the juice from the grapes. One way to begin meditating on the Scripture is simply to begin committing it to memory until you can recite it perfectly. As you do, you will tend to notice the words and their connections more.
In Oratio, you let the juice you have harvested sit in the oak barrel of your soul and ferment. Like Mary, you “ponder these things in your heart”. You ask God questions, wrestle with the text and try to wring out of it the meaning he put there. Why would Jesus use spit when he could have just spoken and achieved the same result? Why does Jesus call the Canaanite woman a “dog” but then commend her faith and answer her prayer? Why does the inspired writer choose this image of, say, a shepherd or a vine? Why would the psalmist say the Lord God is a sun and shield (two things you would not normally connect and two things which don’t seem especially connected to the rest of the images in Psalm 84)?” Talk to God about all this, expecting him to give you insight both into the Scripture and into its application to your life.
Finally, there is Contemplatio: As God reveals himself to us through the Scriptures we are to be moved to both gratitude and obedience. Indeed, our gratitude is meaningless without obedience and mere human busyness is empty without rootedness in the love of God. Contemplatio places us in the love of God that no human effort can earn since God has both willed us into being and offered his Son for us with no merit on our part earning these unfathomable gifts. But Contemplatio inspires us to act with the love of God for others, not earn our salvation, but to live it out in union with Christ.
Another way to approach a Holy Hour is via Adoration and Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (ACTS).
We tend to think of “prayer” as “asking for stuff”. And to be sure, God hears our requests and grants or refuses them according to His will. But Jesus, in teaching us how to pray, does not put the daily bread part first. He puts our confession of Who God is first:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus, in short, wants us to hallow God’s Name because he is good and holy and awesome and magnificent, but most especially because he is Father. We love him because he is love and is our loving Father whether he gives us stuff or not. So we adore the Triune God with our bodies (say, by kneeling, or prostrating ourselves, or raising our hands) and confess his goodness with our lips (perhaps using a psalm, a hymn, or just words of our own composition) to offer him the honor and worship due his Holy Name.
However, at the same time, God knows we have needs and so we also give thanks for God’s goodness to us and make our requests known to him. Some will naturally ask “Why give thanks to a God who needs nothing or make things known to a God who knows everything?” The answer is not that thanks and supplication is something God needs of us, but that he desires to share his life with us. In giving thanks, we grow larger, not God. In praying for our needs and the needs of those around us, we grow in dependence on God and in charity for our neighbor. We join with our Eucharistic Lord in offering thanks and praise to our Father, then break open our hearts and pour out our needs and the needs of our neighbor so that God can, in turn, pour out his grace on us and on the world.
Now is the Time of Salvation
The Holy Hour is given us by our Mother the Church not as a law or a set of rules to keep, but as an opportunity for a free encounter with the living God. The suggestions given above for making a Holy Hour are just that: suggestions. There are lot of other ways to do it such as saying a Rosary, doing a Litany of the Divine Praises, devoting specific periods of prayer to particular needs or particular people, taking the time for “holy study” and simply finding a good spiritual writer to read such as Brother Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence of God, using the time before the sacrament to do an examination of conscience, singing God’s praises (if appropriate and not disturbing to others) or a thousand other ways you might meet with God. What matters is the encounter with him in the “sacrament of the present moment”. That is why St. Paul, citing the prophet Jeremiah, tells us, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).