Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M., gathered with a few dozen faithful for a Holy Hour of prayer and Benediction at Holy Family Cathedral on July 8. On a sunny Monday evening, ceiling fans hummed while an acolyte and deacon prepared the altar and sanctuary for adoration of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Bishop Bellisario aims to make the Holy Hour a monthly tradition as he oversees the Anchorage Archdiocese as apostolic administrator until Pope Francis names a new archbishop to replace Archbishop Paul Etienne who was assigned to Seattle earlier this summer.
An air of quiet anticipation filled the church while Catholics trickled into the parish to pray silently, to read and to wait before their Lord. As the Holy Hour drew near, Bishop Bellisario and Deacon David Van Tuyl, made final adjustments to a carved wooden kneeler placed before the altar for the bishop.
A monstrance, an ornate vessel with a clear window into which a consecrated host is placed for veneration, was set on the altar. It was flanked by three votive candles on each side. The development of the monstrance can be traced to the 13th century when eucharistic processions rose in popularity. Its shape resembles a cross, with a clear center surrounded by sun-like rays. This particular vessel is adorned with four red stones, one between each of the arms of the cross.
As the evening sun brightened and warmed the cathedral, Bishop Bellisario, dressed in an alb, with a simple but elegant white brocade cope trimmed in red and draped over his shoulders, moved quietly toward the sanctuary, accompanied by a lone acolyte. Church bells chimed the hour.
The noise of traffic leaving the downtown area streets belied the silence of the cathedral as the bishop removed the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle, carried it in his cloth-draped hands and placed it reverently in the monstrance for all to see. He then kneeled before the exposed Body of Christ and remained in this position for the duration of the Holy Hour.
Those present kneeled for many minutes, or as long as comfortable or feasible. Most alternated postures of sitting and kneeling, praying silently with eyes closed, many read from books or worship aids.
The bustle of the city rattled on outside while inside voices of young children, hushed and respectful, drifted occasionally from the back of the sanctuary. The lilt of a baby’s babbling was heard. The sense of the sacred was palpable.
The monstrance gleamed against a gold brocade backdrop hung on the cathedral’s dark wall. A wooden crucifix suspended before this expanse of fabric was perfectly centered behind the holy vessel, which bears the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist — simple, but profound, splendor.
At the half hour, the cathedral bells pealed, intensifying, then gradually receding and echoing through the streets.
As the Holy Hour drew to a close, the bells chimed the 7 o’clock hour in measured beat, fading in time. Bishop Bellisario rose from his kneeler. As the acolyte incensed the monstrance, the kneeling faithful sang “Tantum Ergo.” The Divine Praises were then recited with worshippers repeating the familiar phrases, “Blessed be God, blessed be his holy name….”
With reverence and no fanfare, the consecrated host was returned to the tabernacle. While the ordinary world clamored outside the walls of the historic cathedral, those gathered to spend a Holy Hour with the Real Presence of Christ sang “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” They left in silence.