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A term broadly used to designate the practically uninterrupted adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The term is used in a truly literal sense, i.e. to indicate that the adoration is physically perpetual; and, more frequently, in a moral sense, when it is interrupted only for a short time, or for imperative reasons, or through uncontrollable circumstances, to be resumed, however, when possible, or it may indicate an uninterrupted adoration for a longer or shorter period, a day, or a few days, as in the devotion of the Forty Hours, or it may designate an uninterrupted adoration in one special church, or in different churches in a locality or diocese, or country, or throughout the world.
No trace of the existence of any such extra-liturgical cultus of the Blessed Sacrament can be found in the records of the early Church. Christian Lupus, indeed, argues that in the days of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine it was customary for the neophytes to adore, for eight days following their baptism, the Blessed Sacrament exposed, but no sound proof is adduced. It first appears in the later Middle Ages, about the beginning of the thirteenth century. It certainly may be conjectured that such adoration was really connoted by the fact of reservation in the early Church, especially in view of the evident desire to have the Eucharist represent the unity and continuity of the Church, as it is unlikely that there should not be some continuation of the adoration evidently given to the Host at the Synaxis. But such conjecture cannot be insisted upon
The slowness with which the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament came into vogue, and the also slow development of the custom of paying visits to the Blessed Sacrament [Father Bridgett asserting that he had not come across one clear example in England of a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in pre-Reformation times (Thurston, ib.)], render it increasingly difficult to make out a case for any adoration, perpetual or temporary, outside the Mass and Holy Communion, as these various forms of devotion are closely linked together. Most liturgists rightly attribute the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and its special adoration to the establishment of the Feast of Corpus Christi. But it is worthy of note that the first recorded instance of Perpetual Adoration antedates Corpus Christi, and occurred at Avignon. On 11 September 1226, in compliance with the wish of Louis VII, who had just been victorious over the Albigensians, the Blessed Sacrament, veiled, was exposed in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, as an act of thanksgiving. So great was the throng of adorers that the bishop, Pierre de Corbie, judged it expedient to continue the adoration by night, as well as by day, a proposal that was subsquently ratified by the approval of the Holy See. This really Perpetual Adoration, interrupted in 1792, was resumed in l829, through the efforts of the "Confraternity of Penitents-Gris" (Annales de Saint-Sacrement, III, 90). It is said that there has been a Perpetual Adoration in the Cathedral of Lugo, Spain, for more than a thousand years in expiation of the Priscillian heresy. (Cardinal Vaughan refers to this in an official letter to the Cardinal Primate of Spain, 1895.)
Exposition and consequently adoration became comparatively general only in the fifteenth century. It is curious to note that these adorations were usually for some special reason, e.g. for the cure of a sick person, or, on the eve of an execution, in the hope that the condemned would die a happy death. The Order of the "Religiosi bianchi del corpo di Gesù Christo," a Benedictine reform, united to Cîteaux in 1393, and approved later as a separate community, devoted themselves to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Philip II of Spain founded in the Escorial the Vigil of the Blessed Sacrament, religious in successive pairs remaining constantly, night and day, before the Blessed Sacrament. But, practically, the devotion of the Forty Hours, begun in 1534, and officially established in 1592, developed the really general Perpetual Adoration, spreading as it did from the Adoration in one or more churches in Rome until it gradually extended throughout the world, so that it may be truly said that during every hour of the year the Blessed Sacrament, solemnly exposed is adored by multitudes of the faithful. In 1641 Baron de Renty, famous for devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, founded in St. Paul's parish, in Paris an association of ladies for practically a Perpetual Adoration; and, in 1648, at St-Sulpice the Perpetual Adoration, day and night, was established as a reparation for an outrage committed by thieves against the Sacred Host. The Perpetual Adoration was founded at Lyons, in 1667, in the Church of the Hôtel-Dieu. In various places, and by different people, lay and religious, new foundations have been made since then, the history of which can be traced in the valuable "Histoire du Sacrement de l'Eucharistie," by Jules Corblet (II, xviii). The last development that it is important to notice here is the organization at Rome, in 1882, of "The Perpetual Adoration of Catholic Nations represented In the Eternal City". Its object was to offer to God a reparation that is renewed daily by some of the Catholic nations represented in Rome, in the churches in which the Forty Hours was being held, as follows:
This society has affiliations throughout the world.
It is interesting to note the propagation in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries of the Perpetual Adoration in all the churches and chapels of certain dioceses. The earliest mention of this practices is in 1658, when the churches in the Diocese of Chartres were opened for this purpose from six o'clock in the morning to six in the evening and wherever there were religious communities possessing a chapel the adoration was continued day and night. So, too, in Amiens (1658); in Lyons (1667); Evreux (1672); Rouen (1700), Boulogne (1753). In this last diocese the parishes were divided into twelve groups, representing the twelve months of the year, each group containing as many parishes as there were days in the month it represented. To each church in every group was assigned a day for the adoration. In Bavaria the work of the Perpetual Adoration, begun in 1674, fell into desuetude, but was re-established in l802, and on a larger scale in l873. Interrupted in France by the Revolution, the Perpetual Adoration was restored under Louis Philippe in some dioceses but especially in l848, by the influence of the celebrated pianist Hermann Cohen, who afterwards became a Discalced Carmelite under the name of Père Augustin of the Blessed Sacrament. In six French dioceses the adoration is strictly perpetual. It flourishes also in Belgium, in different dioceses of Germany, in Italy, in Mexico, in Brazil, and other South American countries, in the United States, and Canada, and even in Oceanica.
The Nocturnal Adoration is carried on in many countries by associations of men. The first confraternity for the Nocturnal Adoration called "Pia Unione di Adoratori del SS. Sagramento" was founded in Rome, in 1810. In Paris, before the passage of the Associations Law, the Nocturnal Adoration was practised in upwards of one hundred and thirty churches and chapels by more than twenty-five hundred men. The Nocturnal Adoration, at Rome, founded in 1851, and erected into an archconfraternity in 1858, practically completes the chain of associations that render perpetual, in a strict sense, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It would be impossible to give here an adequate notice of the enormous number of Eucharistic associations, lay and clerical, formed for the work of the Perpetual Adoration. In addition to the communities and associations mentioned above, we shall here enumerate only the most important societies whose object has been Perpetual Adoration. A comparatively exhaustive list will be found in Corblet (op. cit., II, 444 sqq.).
It would be impossible to enumerate the special indulgences belonging to these different associations. JOSEPH H. McMAHON