THE HOLY HOUR
“Could you not watch one hour with me?” (Mt. 26:40)
The Holy Hour is an exercise of mental or vocal prayer, in union with the prayer of Our Lord in the Garden of Olives on Holy Thursday night. It was taught as a practice to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque by Our Lord Himself, who appeared to her while she was adoring the Blessed Sacrament, and said: “In the night between Thursday and Friday each week, I will make you partaker of that sorrow unto death which it was My will to suffer in the Garden of Olives... To join with Me in the humble prayer which I then offered to My Father, you shall rise between eleven o'clock and midnight; you shall prostrate yourself with Me for one hour, with your face to the ground, both to appease the anger of God by imploring mercy for sinners, and to sweeten in some way the bitterness I felt when My apostles abandoned Me, being unable to watch one hour with Me.”
There are no special prayers or practices obligatory during the Holy Hour, but it should be offered in memory of the sacred Passion, and in particular of the prayer and agony of Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.
THE SACRED HEART IN GETHSEMANE
by Fr. Albert Tesnière, S.S.S.
That part of the drama of the Passion which was played in Gethsemane may properly be called the Passion of the Sacred Heart. Although the Heart of the Saviour, in all the torments that He underwent for us, ceased not for one instant to suffer, even till the last pulsation with which He breathed forth His soul upon the Cross, yet it was in Gethsemane that every pang sprang from the depths of His Heart, fell back upon His Heart, flowed in torture over His Heart. It was from the Heart alone that His agony then came, for no external violence from the hands of the myrmidons who seized Him, the iniquitous judges who condemned Him, the executioners who scourged, buffeted and crucified Him, then struck the Divine Victim.
From this almost limitless domain of the Passion of the Sacred Heart, we shall choose as our subject of adoration the prayer of Our Divine Master during this night of agony. We shall reflect upon it as the motive and example of prayer by night, which in our own day receives the name of Nocturnal Adoration, and which was demanded by the Sacred Heart from Blessed Margaret Mary as one of the chief means of Its worship.
“Every night, between Thursday and Friday, you shall rise to share in the sadness that I willed to endure in the Garden of Olives, and to bear Me company in the humble prayer I then presented to My Father.”
The Gospel tells us very plainly that the Saviour desired with a formal desire several times expressed, that His Apostles should watch and pray with Him on the night preceding His Passion.
It was by night that Christ went to Gethsemane to pray. He consecrated three hours to that earnest prayer, which His grief changed for Him into an “agony.”
The Pasch was celebrated after sundown. Jesus entered the Cenacle at nightfall and, after the three repasts, that of the Paschal lamb, that of the ordinary supper, and that of the Last Supper, it was night, as says the Sacred Text. Then Judas, the double traitor toward his Master, went out, to deliver Him to His enemies: “Erat autem nox—And it was night” (John xiii, 30). It is probable that Jesus entered the Garden about the ninth hour, and we are led to believe that He prolonged His prayer for the space of three hours. We know for certain that He spent one full hour in prayer before going to the Apostles, and saying to them: “Sic non potuistis una hora vigilare mecum?—What! Could you not watch one hour with Me?” (Matt. xxvi, 40). As the Evangelists describe in the same terms the other two stations that Jesus made afar from His Apostles: “He went again the second and third time, and prayed, saying the self-same words: Et iterum secundo abiit et oravit, eundem sermonem dicens” (John xiii, 30), it is very probable that each one of those prayers lasted an hour. What makes this the more likely is the fact, that St. Luke says: “Et factus in agonia, prolixius orabat—And being in an agony, He prayed the longer” (Luke xxii, 43).
Commentators tell us, also, that in resuming His prayers, despite the violent struggle that He experienced, the Saviour wished to give His Apostles an example of perseverance in prayer. He desired to teach them that it must be prolonged until the soul feels itself drawn nearer to God, its hope enlivened, its needs supplied, or its will more perfectly submissive to that of God. They say, also, that it was only at the third period of His prayer that an angel “was sent to console and to strengthen Him.”
The foregoing reasons render it very credible that the Saviour prolonged His prayer in the Garden three hours. He passed, in consequence, a great part of the night in adoration before His Divine Father. By His own example, He consecrated in advance the nocturnal prayer which the Church was to practise at all periods of her existence. He Himself set the example before demanding it formally of His Apostles, His first disciples, priests, and religious.
Yes, it is first of all for Himself, for the support and consolation of His Heart, so truly human, that He desires His Apostles to share in His sorrowful prayer. He has need of sympathy, companionship, and fidelity. In all His strength as the Son of God, He willed to be feeble as the Son of Man! He is plunged in death-like sadness, and His Heart is about to begin a mortal combat. Nothing is more necessary to a sufferer than the constant and faithful presence of a sympathizing friend, who understands, enters into, and compassionates his pain. And so does Jesus “look for some one who will console Him by sharing His sadness.” He is about to descend into the arena, to begin, in accordance with the will of His Father, a combat of tears and supplications, to mitigate His rigor and obtain that He will be pleased “to allow that chalice to pass!” His Heart revolts at the thought of all the treason, abandonment, and denials in store for Him, and He has to combat against that repugnance. He has to struggle with His own soul to make it yield voluntarily to a flood of opprobrium and ignominy, and even against His flesh itself when imposing upon it the most horrible sufferings. He feels all the horror of one that has to combat alone, for “if he falls, who will raise him up?”
Oppressed by the necessities of the human nature which He so freely assumed, Jesus implores the presence and assistance of those whom He has a right to think His friends, since He had so loved them. He makes known to them the need that He has of them: “Ah! watch ye and pray with me, for my soul is sad unto death!”
And when yielding to the inexorable decision of His Father, who will pardon the guilty only at the price of the death voluntarily embraced by the Innocent One; when overcome by grief and shame at the thought of the cruelty, the excess of humiliation, which are about to make of Him “the last of men and the outcast of the people,” He fled the field of His defeat to find in the vigilant solicitude of His own a little respite and relief, how did He appear? Ah, behold Him; His face wan, His eyes sunken, His head bowed down, His shoulders stooped, covered with the bloody sweat that has been forced from His pores by the weight of His mental sufferings! Listen to Him begging His Apostles to have pity on Him, not to refuse “to watch and pray at least one hour with Him.”
Although the prayer of the Saviour in the Garden of Olives is in itself a deep mine for meditation, we shall very briefly indicate according to the Gospel, its exterior character and interior composition, since it should serve as a model for “all the servants of the Lord,” who, leaving their couches, pass the night in the temple, their hands raised toward the tabernacle, and blessing the Lord: “Ecce nunc benedicite Dominum, omnes servi Domini . . . In noctibus extollite manus vestras in sancta, et benedicite Dominum—Behold now, bless ye the Lord, all the servants of the Lord . . . In the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord” (Ps. cxxxiii).
Let us contemplate the Saviour's prayer in its religious exterior in the sombre sanctuary of Gethsemane. He withdraws some paces from even His most intimate disciples, in order to separate Himself from every creature, buries Himself in solitude favorable to prayer, and presents Himself alone before His Divine Father: “Et progressus pusillum, avulsus est ab eis quantum jactus est lapidis—And when He had gone forward a little, about a stone's throw,” He fell upon His knees in prayer, acknowledging before the Divine Majesty the inferiority and weakness of His human nature: “Et positis genibus orabat—And falling on His knees, He prayed.” But that posture is not sufficiently humiliating. He falls face downward on the earth, overwhelmed by the weight of Divine Justice. He hides His face because, covered with our sins as with a filthy leprosy and struck on that account by the wrath of God, He cannot endure the brightness of His sanctity: “Procidit super terram in faciem suam, orans—He fell on His face to the earth, praying.” Struck, humbled, rejected by His Father, for whose honor, however, He was suffering, He fell into an agony, “Factus in agonia.”
The struggle between His spiritual will which wishes at any price to satisfy the demands of God and His sensible will which He permits to feel and express insurmountable repugnance, is such that from His whole person, crushed under the weight of agony, a bloody sweat breaks out. Soon He is covered with it from head to foot. It flows down on the earthen floor of the grotto: “Et factus est sudor ejus sicut guttae sanguinis decurrentis in terram—And His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.”
In this abasement, in this agony, Jesus prays for three hours!—Ah, how humble, respectful, submissive, and at the same time loving and confident toward His Father! “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me! Yet not My will, but Thine be done!”—And again: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to Thee! Remove this chalice from Me, but not what I will, but what Thou wilt!”—And again: “My Father, if this chalice may not pass away but I must drink it, Thy will be done!”
In the Saviour's soul, His agony was still more cruel. It was from the exhaustion of His Heart that His knees had given way and that He had fallen to the earth. It was from the extreme sadness of His Heart, tortured by the most cruel agonies, that had sprung the bloody sweat which inundated Him.
The “Master of Prayer” gave in the Garden the ideal model of every prayer. Though under different conditions, He continues this example in the Eucharist.
Instituted to be the perfect and perpetual memorial of the Passion of the Saviour, the Eucharist carries down through the centuries the remembrance of the prayer and the agony of Gethsemane. It recalls the fact itself together with the sorrow and the love. It applies its virtues, and confers its fruits.
It continues it in reality, but under conditions compatible with the glorified and impassible state which the immortal Christ retains even under the sacramental veil of death. Of the mental and physical sufferings, of the bloody sweat, of the abandonment of His Father which marked His agony, the Eucharistic Christ retains only the remembrance, a remembrance blessed and recompensed. But desirous to perpetuate as much of His Passion as is possible, He continues His prayer in the lowliness of a state of inertia, which abases Him before His Father even below that of Gethsemane. There, the pallor of His divine countenance, the agony and the blood, without doubt, disfigured Him; but here, He is no longer human, He is but a little dust. He dwells alone, abandoned by indifferent, ungrateful, or hostile men, an abandonment far more displeasing to Him than was the sleep of the Apostles; and there He will remain night and day until the consummation of ages. Every morning at the Consecration, He descends, perseveringly overcoming all repugnance, into the Gethsemane of the Sacrament, there to resume His prayer, in the humility of His attitude and the ardor of His desires for the redemption of the world and the coming of His kingdom.
But remaining truly man in His Heart and affections, seeking a return of love from us, still feeling the need of our presence and fidelity, of our sympathy and compassion, in which He finds consolation for His past sufferings and present humiliations, He calls upon us, He supplicates us to keep Him company, to stay with Him, to unite with Him in prayer as much for His sake as for our own. It was this desire that He earnestly expressed at the moment He instituted the Eucharist, when He said: “Manete in me, manete in dilectione mea—Remain in me, remain in my love.” He did this in a manner still more precise when He deigned to throw off the sacramental veils and reveal the mystery of His existence, the love and the needs of His Heart in the Eucharist.
To His blessed confidante, Margaret Mary, He said: “Every night between Thursday and Friday, thou shalt rise between eleven and twelve o'clock and bear Me company in the humble prayer which I offered to My Father in the Garden of Olives. During this hour thou shalt do what I shall teach thee.
“Thou shalt prostrate, face downward on the ground, as much to appease the Divine anger while imploring mercy for sinners, as to sweeten in some degree the abandonment of My Apostles, which forced Me to reproach them for not having watched one hour with Me.
“I shall make thee share in the mortal sadness which I then willed to endure, and it shall reduce thee, without thy being able to understand it, to a species of agony more insupportable than death itself.”
Beg Our Eucharistic Lord to increase the devotion of the Holy Hour among the Faithful.
Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make my heart like unto Thine.
[The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus: Readings for the Month of June: From the Writings of Father A. Tesnière, S.S.S.]