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How to turn Holy Week into a pilgrimage


Catholic Diocese of Saginaw | Flickr CC by ND 2.0

Fr. Edward Looney - published on 04/13/19

The liturgies bring us to specific, physical places, which enable us to accompany Christ in his footsteps.

The spiritual practice of pilgrimage is one that spans the ages. Pilgrims have visited the Holy Land since the time Christ walked the earth, in order to venerate where he was born, died, and rose from the dead. While it is true every Christian should visit the Holy Land at least once in their lives, the reality is that many are unable to do so because of health challenges or lack of means. During our observance of Holy Week, every Christian, no matter where they are, can make a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land through the Church’s devotional and liturgical celebrations.  


Read more:
The Stations of the Cross were first prayed with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land

It all begins on Palm Sunday. In an ideal celebration, you would begin outside the Church and begin with the first Gospel, blessing of palms, and procession with palms into the Church. Later during Mass, we hear the second Gospel for the day, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

These two experiences allow us to make a spiritual pilgrimage; we become participants in Palm Sunday with the procession, and taking on the voice of the crowd, we journey with Christ to the hill of Golgotha.  

The next destination of our spiritual pilgrimage is the Upper Room, to the place where Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and instituted the Holy Eucharist during the Last Supper.  

Our liturgical actions of this Mass take us into that scene. The priest washes the feet of 12 parish disciples and solemnly prays the Eucharistic Prayer, typically on this night the Roman Canon, with the special clause, “On this night” during the words of consecration.  

The Holy Thursday liturgy is a pilgrimage to the Upper Room, and a foreshadowing of Calvary; as Dr. Edward Sri teaches in his No Greater Love: Biblical Walk Through Christ’s Passion, the Mass is Calvary. Every Mass is a spiritual pilgrimage to Calvary.     

At the conclusion of the Holy Thursday liturgy, the priest processes with the Blessed Sacrament to an altar of repose.  

This part of our spiritual pilgrimage leads us into the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus spends His time in prayer to the Father. We are there with the disciples, but unlike them, we strive to be attentive and alert, to watch and pray with our Lord before his betrayal and arrest.  

On Good Friday, our spiritual pilgrimage brings us to Calvary, hearing the words of Jesus as he dies on the cross.  And with Joseph of Arimathea we go to the tomb, praying and waiting until the angelic announcement that Christ is risen from the dead.  

Easter Sunday takes us on pilgrimage to the empty tomb. We run with Peter and John; we weep with Mary Magdalene; we walk with the disciples on the way to Emmaus.  

Besides our liturgical spiritual pilgrimage, the Church’s devotional practices, especially walking the Stations of the Cross, enable us to walk with Jesus on the way to Calvary. Every time we pray the Stations, it is a spiritual pilgrimage. For those unable to ever visit the Holy Land, one can still participate in the Via Dolorosa.  

Holy Steps

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Whether you’ve prayed at all the Holy Week liturgies or not, this year experience Holy Week in a new way. Make a spiritual pilgrimage. Pause and imagine yourself at the places of Christ’s passion and participate with Christ. Pray and walk alongside Jesus. Listen to his voice. Witness the resurrection. Let your spiritual pilgrimage transform your experience of Holy Week.


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