Seven Churches Visitation
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The Seven Churches Visitation also known as Visita Iglesia is a pious Roman Catholic Lenten tradition to visit seven churches on Maundy Thursday. On Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, following the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Blessed Sacrament, the "bread" of the mass, is laid on the Altar of Repose in the church for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. During the Seven Churches Visitation or Visita Iglesia, the faithful visit several churches – sometimes seven, sometimes fourteen, sometimes no set number depending upon the particular practice – to pray in front of each church's Blessed Sacrament.
After the Mass of the Lord's Supper, during which Christians remember Jesus Christ's last meal with his Apostles on the night that he was arrested, and throughout the night, the faithful remember Jesus's Agony in the Garden. After the mass, the main and most side altars are stripped bare; all crosses are either removed or covered; the Blessed Sacrament placed on the Altar of Repose, and churches are open for silent adoration. This is response to request Jesus made to his apostles while they were in the Garden, as recorded in Gospel of Matthew 26:40, "Could you not, then, watch one hour with me?"
The faithful who practice this visitation depart from the church where they attended the Mass of the Lord's Supper and walk or otherwise travel to nearby churches and each kneel and prayer in front of that church's Altar of Repose. This occurs mostly in urban areas where churches are close enough to make the traveling possible.
There are no set of prayers given by the Catholic Church except to pray for the intentions of the Pope and recite the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary and Gloria Patri. People also opt to pray the Stations of the Cross, the recitation of which is liturgically proper to Good Friday.[according to whom?]
Various theories exists as to the significance of number seven, including:
- Seven Scripture passages of Christ's arrest and trial
- The Jesus's Seven Last Words
- Seven Holy Wounds (five wounds plus the Scourge marks and His injured left shoulder)
- Seven first Christian holy sites in Israel
- Seven Deacons of the Twelve Apostles
- Seven ancient basilicas of Rome
- The historical seven deacons of Rome, responsible for ministering to the poor
The custom possibly dates back to the Apostolic Age, during a time when early Christians would visit the shrines at the sites important to the events of the Passion of Jesus Christ, the events from his capture in the Garden of Gethsemane to his Resurrection. These seven holy sites are related to the High Priest Annas (John 18:12-23); Annas to High Priest Caiphas (Mark 14:53-63); Caiphas to Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:56-67); Sanhedrin to Pilate (Luke 23:1-5); Pilate to Herod (Luke 23:6-12); Herod to Pilate (Luke 23:13-25) and Pilate to Calvary (John 19:1-6).
After Emperor Constantine granted the freedom to practice Christianity in the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D., pious observants began to also make seven visits within these Roman basilicas: Basilica of Saint John Lateran; Saint Peter's Basilica; Saint Mary Major; Saint Paul Outside the Walls; Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls; Shrine of Holy Cross of Jerusalem; and Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls.
In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII reinstated this pilgrimage in commemoration of his Pontifical jubilee year, during which Rome became a focal center of all pious pilgrimages. Another association of this custom during this time were the historical Seven Deacons of Jerusalem appointed by the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, who were charged with ministering to the poor, the needy and the destitute.
Visita Iglesia in the Philippines
In the Philippines, the tradition is known as Visita Iglesia (English: Church Visit). The general practise is to visit seven churches either on Holy Thursday or Good Friday and recite the Stations of the Cross in them. The pious would double the number of churches to fourteen, while the infirm and elderly usually visit only one or a handful. Until the 1970s, people recited all fourteen stations in one church.
Originally, the custom was to visit a single church and pray before the Blessed Sacrament placed on the Altar of Repose after the Rite of Transfer on Holy Thursday. In Manila, tradition holds that the number of churches multiplied because there were seven churches in the Intramuros district before the end of War World II (italics indicates church not rebuilt or transferred): Manila Cathedral, San Agustin, San Ignacio, Santo Domingo, San Francisco, Lourdes Church, and San Nicolas de Tolentino.
Some of the more devout carry a cross to and from different churches, while others consider the custom an opportunity for sightseeing. An offering is usually made at each church and to the poor as a form of almsgiving. To accommodate the faithful, many Catholic churches during Holy Week remain open until midnight. Similarly, Visita Iglesia Online by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines is among several such sites that afford Overseas Filipinos and the infirm the chance to participate in the tradition as well as hear recordings of the Pasyon.
In India, the custom is to visit fourteen churches, one per Station of the Cross. This is traditionally performed on Maundy Thursday evening, but the pilgrimage is more often performed on the morning of Good Friday or on any day of Lent. Usually, whole families would participate, customarily fasting for the duration of the rite, but nowadays it is also undertaken by parish devotional groups.
In several countries in Latin America, it is also a tradition to visit seven churches on the night of Holy Thursday.
In Poland, Malta, and among various Latin American countries, Catholics also observe similar customs on Holy Thursday, often marked with solemn penitential prayers in honour of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
In Singapore, the visiting of churches occurs shortly after the evening Mass of the Last Supper. Prayers at each church consist of seven repetitions of the Lord's Prayer, Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri. Due to the new trend of late Mass times (sometimes 7 or 8 pm) to allow for more churchgoers, eight churches are the maximum number visited (even in the city area, where these are closer to each other than in outer residential areas) before these close at midnight. A festive atmosphere exists, with the sale of drinks, hot cross buns and other local snacks like the traditional kueh ko chee. Observant Catholics have a 'Last Supper' meal in anticipation of the next day's fast.
- "Holy Thursday". CatholicCulture.org. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
- "Join the 7-church visits". Catholic Diocese of Pittsburg. Retrieved 30 March 2015.