Holy Hour at Gethsemane

Origin and development

In 1674 Jesus appeared to a “little woman”, Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque (1647-1690), while she was praying. This was not the first time that Christ had manifested himself, showing her his Heart. On this occasion Jesus asked her to make a “Holy Hour” of reparation each Thursday evening from eleven to midnight. In this hour she came to share with him the sadness which he experienced in Gethsemane.

The diffusion of this pious practice throughout the Catholic world was very closely linked to the favor in which the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was viewed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Holy Hour was based on three principal elements taken from the memoirs of Marguerite Marie: prayer of reparation, union with the suffering Jesus at Gethsemane, and acts of humiliation.

In May 1930 the first centennial of the institution of Holy Hour was celebrated at Paray-Le-Monial in France. At the invitation of the Archconfraternity of the Holy Hour, the entire Catholic world came together to celebrate Holy Hour.

Father Custos Aurelio Marotta arranged that in Gethsemane, the place where Jesus suffered the Holy Hour, the pious practice would be celebrated during the night. Three years later on the Thursday prior to Holy Week, 6 April 1933, before the Stone of Agony in the Church of Gethsemane, Father Custos Nazareno Jacopozzi canonically erected the Confraternity of the Holy Hour, affiliated to the mother one in Paray-Le-Monial.

The Confraternity received numerous inscriptions from all over the world (in a single year 21,500 were received, and by the end of the third year the total was 92,482). Those who enrolled were called upon to carry out Holy Hour each Thursday in the afternoon or evening, a practice which would receive a plenary indulgence. Also, the sung Mass celebrated by the Franciscan friars each Thursday was for the souls of those who had enrolled in the confraternity.

Today the practice of Holy Hour before the Stone of Agony takes place the first Thursday of each month as a direct continuation of the Mass at 16.00. In addition, all pilgrims who request it are given the possibility to celebrate Holy Hour at Gethsemane during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Holy Hour on Thursday of Easter Week

The Custos of the Holy Land, sprinkle with red petals, the stone of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday

Each year on the evening of Holy Thursday the Franciscan community joins together with all the faithful who come to Jerusalem for Easter “to watch and pray” for an hour along with Jesus.

The Gospel passages are read aloud in Arabic, Hebrew, German, English, Spanish, Italian and numerous other languages at the very spot where Jesus, before his arrest, sweated blood and abandoned himself to the will of the Father and to his fate of suffering and humiliation.

The celebration recalls the three principal moments of the Passion:

  • Jesus’ foretelling of Peter’s denial (Matt 26:30-35; Mark 14:26-31; Luke 22:31-37);
  • The agony of Christ and his prayer in the Garden of Olives (Luke 22:39-46; Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42);
  • The arrest by the guards (Matt 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-54).


At the beginning of Holy Hour the Father Custos sprinkles red rose petals on the bare rock exposed in front of the altar and bends forward to kiss it. The petals recall the drops of blood that the Lord sweated on that night. The reading of the Gospel passages is accompanied by several psalms and prayers. The three moments are separated by brief intervals of silence and personal prayer. At the end of the celebrations all the faithful bow down to touch and kiss the venerated rock, before beginning a torchlight procession along the Kidron Valley towards the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the place where the house of the high priest Caiaphas stood and where Jesus was brought to pass the night in prison.