When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane and began entering into His Passion, he asked his Apostles to keep watch for one hour. That was their first holy hour.
Based on Jesus’s words to them after their first holy hour, we could say that they had room to grow, but they had to start somewhere, just like the rest of us. If you’re getting ready to make your first holy hour, this article is for you. It will give you a little advantage over the Apostles, because they didn’t have an article to read before they had this exercise sprung on them in the Garden! If you’ve made a few or many holy hours already, you will still gain wisdom from this article on how to make the most of your holy hour.
What is a holy hour? A holy hour is a dedicated hour of prayer. A Eucharistic holy hour is a dedicated hour of prayer spent in the Presence of the Eucharist, whether reserved in the Tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance on the altar. Many people ask what is the best. The best holy hour is the one that you actually complete, even if that is in a room in your home with the door closed. We never want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pray as you can and not as you can’t. If you fail to complete a holy hour because you want it to be in the perfect place, such as in the Perpetual Adoration chapel in the middle of the night, that’s no good.
When you begin your holy hour, it helps to establish a little bodily ritual to help notify your body that you are entering into a special time of concentrated prayer. In our Roman Catholic tradition, kneeling is a posture of prayer and adoration. Especially if you are in a Church, but also in other locations, it can be a great starting point to kneel for a few minutes, calling to mind an image of Christ standing before you. Try to focus your attention on Jesus during these first few minutes, especially considering the great love that He has for you, no matter what you have done. As you kneel, take a few deep breaths as well. Inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of four. That helps to settle your nervous system and transition from whatever you were doing to this new dedicated focus on Christ.
After kneeling for five minutes, pick a comfortable posture in which you can reasonably remain for the duration of the hour. That might be sitting in a chair, sitting on the floor, sitting on a kneeling bench, or sitting on your heels. It is not mandatory to stay in that posture the whole hour, but the less your body is bothered, the more you can concentrate your attention on the Lord.
What now? Let’s consider the instruction Jesus gave His Apostles when they made their first holy hour. He told them to watch (grēgoreō in Greek), and to pray, that they may not enter into temptation. The Greek verb grēgoreō occurs 22 times in the New Testament and it has to do with literally staying awake, but more often it is about attentiveness to the Presence of God (Matt 24:42; 25:13; Mark 13:35, 37; 1 Thess 5:6; Rev 3:2f.; 16:15) and attentiveness to our own hearts (Acts 20:31; 1 Cor 16:13; Col 4:2; 1 Pet 5:8). Our goal in all prayer and especially in an extended time of prayer like a holy hour is to open our hearts to the Lord. That requires that we be attentive to the Lord and attentive to our hearts.
To focus your thoughts a bit, open the Bible to Psalm 139 which starts with “Lord, you search me and you know me.” Imagine Jesus in front of you, looking at you. He searches you and knows you. He sees into your eyes, into your heart. He sees everything. He knows your feelings, your thoughts, your dreams, your desires. And you can gently repeat the words, “Lord, you search me and you know me.” Look into His eyes. That can help to direct your attention. You can gently say it again, “Lord you search me and you know me.” As you gently repeat those words, address them to Jesus and pay attention to what is coming up in your heart.
What feelings, what thoughts, what desires, what concerns, what dreams are you having? Whatever it is, relate it to Jesus. If you feel anxious, tell Him about it. If you are afraid you will fail, let Him know that and ask Him for help. If you are aware of your unworthiness, show Him the places where you feel most unworthy. If you are excited about this new experience, let Him see your zeal. If you are thinking of who you will tell about this holy hour, hold out that person to Jesus in your heart. Relate everything to Him. He is with you.
If you find yourself dozing or find your mind wandering, that’s no problem. So did the Apostles. And Jesus just gently called them back to attention. You can reengage your attention by just gently repeating the words of Psalm 139: “Lord, you search me and you know me.” You can also move on to another verse if you would like to. An hour can feel like a long time at first. Try to stretch out the times of reflection as much as you can. Imagine yourself being with Jesus and talking to Him or just sitting with Him in silence (or the heavenly Father or one of the saints). You can also continue reading the scripture, but try to read just a little at a time and think about it and talk with Jesus. Likewise, you can pray a Rosary or a divine mercy chaplet or some other prayer, but try to pray it slowly and meaningfully. Take a full minute to pray an Our Father, for example. Think about the words and try to speak them directly to our heavenly Father.
Before you know it, the hour will be up. Try to resist the temptation to keep looking at your watch (set an alarm if it helps you let go of the time). Sometimes we are tempted to judge ourselves or rate the value of our holy hour. Remember that simply making a holy hour is already good prayer. Feel free to take this little reflection with you to remind you. Most importantly, remember that you are loved and the reason you are making a holy hour, like all prayer, is because God is drawing you to Himself. He loved you before you ever did anything to prove yourself to Him, and He has longed for this time with you far more than you ever longed to be with Him.
You can start Exodus 90 today: