BRIDGEPORT— “Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38).
At the end of Mass on Holy Thursday, the Blessed Sacrament is placed on a temporary “altar of repose.” It has become a tradition for the faithful to process together to this altar and spend time in quiet prayer and adoration. Out of this custom has grown the Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches, practiced by many Catholics around the world.
Before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked his disciples to stay and keep watch with Him. In a similar way, those who visit the altar of repose during their pilgrimage are keeping watch with Him.
Different churches correspond to each of the seven places or “stations,” that were made by Jesus between the Last Supper and His crucifixion. The seven stations consist of: Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22: 39-46), Jesus bound and taken before Annas (John 18: 19-22), Jesus taken before the High Priest, Caiaphas (Matthew 26: 63-65), Jesus taken before Pilate (John 18, 35-37), Jesus taken before Herod (Luke 23: 8-9; 11), Jesus taken before Pilate again (Matthew 27: 22-26) and Jesus given the crown of thorns and led to his crucifixion (Matthew 27: 27-31).
Upon entering each church, pilgrims visit the altar of repose, kneel, make the sign of the cross, read the appropriate Scripture for each station and engage in private prayer and adoration. Groups may also read the corresponding Scripture or pray a Rosary on their way to the different churches. At the seventh station, many will close their pilgrimage by observing a Holy Hour.
This practice can be traced to the tradition of the Station Churches in Rome credited to Saint Philip Neri, back in the 16th Century. Beginning on Wednesday of Holy Week, Philip and his companions would set out to visit the four major basilicas of Rome (St. Peter’s, St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John Lateran), as well as the three significant minor basilicas along the way. George Weigel’s book “Roman Pilgrimage: The Station Churches,” follows this popular pilgrimage.
In the Diocese of Bridgeport, many groups will be participating in the tradition of the Seven Churches. A group from St. Catherine of Siena will begin their pilgrimage after their Mass on Holy Thursday (9 pm) and finish at St. Catherine’s before midnight. Transportation will be provided. To sign up please call: 203-377-3133 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last year, a group of young adults met after Holy Thursday Mass at St. John the Evangelist in Stamford for a Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches. The group prayed before the Blessed Sacrament at each church for about 5-10 minutes. “It was beautiful to see how many people were out late adoring our Lord,” said Diane Kremheller of Catholic Adventures. “We ended the night with some food and a social right before the Good Friday fast began at midnight, after we completed the pilgrimage.”
This year, Catholic Adventures is planning two pilgrimages. The Stamford pilgrimage will begin right after Holy Thursday Mass at St. John the Evangelist. There will also be a group leaving from St. Mary’s in Norwalk.
The Pilgrimage to the Seven Churches is a powerful way to spend time in adoration, meditating on Christ’s sacrifice of love in preparation for the joy of Easter. “It is a participation in Christ’s invitation to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane on the first Holy Thursday: ‘Watch and pray,’” said Father Joseph Marcello, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull.