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Friday, April 22, 2011

A Pilgrimage of Sorts

We don't have Stational Churches in my little corner of the South Texas hinterland.  I suppose that not many areas have them.  However, we have a unique custom down here involving Holy Thursday and visitations.  After assisting at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper in their particular parhishes, many of the faithful embark on a pilgrimage where they visit six other parishes.  All told, by the time the evening is over, they will have visited seven churches total (including their own parish).

Your intrepid blogger embarked on her own journey throughout the city.  A friend of mine from the parish came along.  Obviously, we started our journey at home base, our parish.


This picture was actually taken today.  Last night, it looked beautiful; however, although the Tabernacle was bathed with the light of dozens of candles, it was still too dim to take a decent picture.  We stayed in prayer for a bit and then proceeded on to the tour.

I did not get a chance to photograph the next two stops.  It did not occur to me until the following stop that I should document this nocturnal pilgrimage.   Here is the next photograph.

Talk about being bathed in candlelight.  It was quite an impact to be greeted by what seemed to be a couple of hundred candles burning brightly.  As I knelt down to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, the warmth of all of those candles hit my face.  While we were at prayer, a steady stream of faithful came in to visit.  We ran into some of the folks whom we had seen at the other parishes.   All of us were making that same journey.  

We made our way downtown to the Cathedral.  I used to volunteer at the Cathedral, helping out with liturgy.  We would use the back Blessed Sacrament chapel as the Altar of Repose, but, times have changed.

As I was praying, I could not help but rememince about how things had been 10 years ago.  The rector decided that we should rent trolleys from the city's metro transit system and do our own tour of seven churches.  People really enjoyed the tour.  As we wound our way through the city streets we prayed the rosary and sang hymns.   The excursion made me think of the Canterbury Tales.  While we weren't spinning yarns like the Medieval pilgrims, we were sharing fellowship as we made our pilgrimage.  It was prayerful and enjoyable.

Remaining in downtown, we went to my dad's parish for the next visitation.  All throughout the trip, I played some Gregorian chant to get my friend and I in the pilgrimage mode.


I found it fascinating that both the Cathedral and my dad's parish decided to place the Altar of Repose in the area where the statues of the Blessed Mother are normally located.    It is actually a most appropriate location because Mary, the true Ark of the Covenant, was the first Tabernacle.  Just as the Ark of the Old Covenant held the manna from heaven, the tablets of the Mosaic law and the rod of Aaron, the first priest, Mary held in her womb the True Bread come down from heaven, the fulfillment of the Law and the True High Priest, Jesus Christ. 

Our next stop was a tiny mission parish located just outside of our community college.  This remote little church also houses a retreat center.


Once again, the lights of nearly 200 candles bathed the area of the Altar of Repose.  I could still smell the sweet aroma of the incense that had been used for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.  At each stop, I prayed for two friends of mine, a local prelate and an Oratorian priest who works for the Holy See.  I had promised them that I would pray for them throughout the night.  Of course, I also prayed for the Holy Father, given the exhortation that he preached on how our prayers comfort him.   This was there night, as the Sacrament of Holy Orders was also instituted at the Last Supper.  Holy Orders and the  Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist are intrinscally united.  They are inseparable.  In order for the Church to "do this in memory of me", she needs priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice.  Thus, throughout the evening, my two friends and the Holy Father were never far from my mind nor my heart.

The next stop was to a parish that is commonly known down here as the "blue church".  The entire interior of the church is painted a bright blue.

We happened to come upon what seemed to be an all-night vigil sponsored by the Nocturnal Adoration Society.  It was most edifying to see the faithful praying together and singing.  The faithful seemed oblivious to the consistent traffic entering and departing the church. 

My friend and I returned back to our parish so that we can spend additional time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  She asked me why we visit seven churches.  I told her that I really did not know the answer.  We both compared it to the Roman stational churches.  However, as I type this blog entry, I am wondering if there might be a deeper reasoning.  After Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Gospel accounts tell us that he was taken to several different places.  He went before Annas, Caiphas, Pilate and Herod and back to Pilate.  St. Peter, despite his foibles and flaws, desperately wanted to be where Jesus was.  He followed closely behind until his denials caught up to him and he left the scene.  St. John was able to follow him all the way to Calvary. 

And so it is with us.  Despite our sins, our foibles and our weaknesses, we want to follow Jesus.  Yes, we could have stayed in our parishes to pray there, but, there is something about making a pilgrimage, about making the symbolic journey to accompany Jesus that goes beyond the pious local custom.  It is about wanting to follow Jesus and join the rest of our brothers and sisters in that journey.


  1. I am replying on March 18, 2012 nearly a year later. In answering your question on the seven visits on Holy Thursday Night, the custom as I have been told is in honor of the Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother. You had the answer when you stated that she is the Ark of the Covenant and the first tabernacle. One accompanies mary in her grief and offers consolation.

  2. The custom of visiting the seven churches on Holy Thursday is show devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary. One can also pay homage to the seven last words of Our Lord and contemplate the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting that you note that the Blessed Mother is the Ark of the Covenant and the first tabernacle.

  3. I came across a better source for the tradition of the seven visits. According to tradition, St. Phillip Neri initiated this practice in honor of the seven places in which Jesus was taken on the night of his passion.