If you ask us, this long-lost traditional custom is hands down the best way to celebrate Holy Thursday.
I was a junior in high school the first time I heard of the Seven Churches Visitation.
“Want to come with us for seven churches tomorrow?” my friend asked me after school. “My mom said there’s room in our car for you and your sister.”
“Come with you for what now?” I asked.
He couldn’t believe it. “You know, visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday? Wait, really? How have you never heard of this?”
It turned out a lot of our friends did this tradition every year, too. I was excited to join them for the first time.
What is it?
The concept of the Seven Churches Visitation is simple. You attend Mass on Holy Thursday, then visit seven different churches, taking time to pray before the Blessed Sacrament on the altar of repose at each one.
What makes the custom a little tricky is that you have to be in an area with a lot of Catholic churches for it to work. This is not going to be easily doable if all your local churches are spread far apart from each other. So it makes the most sense to do this if you live in an urban area with a large Catholic population. (It works perfectly in Chicago where I live!)
After joining my friend’s family that Holy Thursday, I was totally sold on the tradition. A lot of my friends did it too, and we would plan out our route to visit the same churches at the same time.
Staying up late on a school night to visit different gorgeous historic churches with all my friends, talking and laughing together in the car? Count me in! As you can imagine, it was a total blast.
It goes back a long way
Years later, I did some research on the tradition and discovered that it originated out of praying the Stations of the Cross. That’s why it calls for seven churches: You’re supposed to pray two stations at each church. This origin has been lost in a lot of places, but visiting the churches has remained.
The Seven Churches Visitation originated in Rome, which makes sense since my friend who introduced it to me is Italian. But it spread throughout Europe and Latin America, and many other countries claim this tradition. too.
Once I mentioned the tradition to my grandmother, and she told me that she used to do it too when she was a girl living in Havana. But the tradition was lost when they moved to this country, where the churches were too spread out to walk from one to the next. I love knowing that I inadvertently reclaimed a tradition of my ancestors.
Here’s how to do it
Hopefully I’ve sold you on doing the Seven Churches Visitation this year. If you’re doing it with a group of friends, here’s the game plan I’d suggest…
1 Choose a church to start
This is the church where you’ll attend Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper. I like to pick an especially big and beautiful church to start with, but you might want to pick the church closest to your home or some other consideration.
2 Map out your route
Look up churches close to the first one and plan out which ones to visit and in what order. Look at how to minimize travel time between churches, and be sure to check which ones will be open for visitation, and how late.
You might want to end up back where you started if friends are parking there to carpool to the other churches. And you might want to make a shareable map of the route.
3 Invite friends and family
Send out an invitation with your plan for the evening, including Mass time, all the locations, and any other details.
This is a wonderful traditional way to honor Holy Thursday. It’s a solemn occasion, but still enjoyable, and it’s a night you’ll never forget. Hope you can join in the tradition this year!