Here’s how to make a Seven Churches Visitation on Holy Thursday

Praying in church Photo illustration. | Shutterstock

Every Holy Thursday, groups of Catholic faithful across the country and world embark on what’s known as the Seven Churches Visitation. 

In this special tradition, pilgrims adore Christ in seven different altars of repose while praying and reflecting on the passion of Christ.

At the end of each Holy Thursday Mass, the priest strips the altar and removes the Eucharist from the tabernacle to place it in repose on another nearby altar.

The Seven Churches Visitation (or Pilgrimage) is credited as beginning in Rome with St. Philip Neri in the 1500s. Neri would lead groups of faithful to visit each of the seven basilicas of Rome on Holy Thursday night as a way of keeping watch with Christ as though at the Garden of Gethsemane before his passion. 

Today, the devotion is primarily practiced in Latin America, Italy, Poland, and the Philippines.

Each visit calls on the faithful to reflect on the seven final places Jesus went from his arrest on Holy Thursday to his death on Good Friday.

At each church, pilgrims kneel before the altar of repose, meditate on a scriptural excerpt, and offer prayers and adoration. 

This year in Washington, D.C.’s “little Rome,” a neighborhood in which many Catholic institutions — including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops — has headquarters, there will be 11 different altars of repose for pilgrims to choose from. 

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, the St. John Paul II National Shrine, The Catholic University of America’s St. Vincent de Paul Chapel, the Dominican House of Studies, St. Anselm’s Abbey, and the Capuchin College claim a few of the altars of repose within walking distance of each other in D.C.’s little Rome. 

Washington is not the only U.S. city in which the faithful can participate in the seven churches tradition. Virtually every major city has enough churches within close driving distance from each other for pilgrims to easily make the journey. 

Many cities even have organized groups you can join for first-time pilgrims who may want a little guidance and structure on their pilgrimage. These groups can usually be found through a simple internet search. 

How do pilgrims going on this seven-church journey meditate on the passion of Christ? 

Here are the Scripture excerpts to reflect on at each church:

1) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46)

2) Jesus before Annas (Jn 18:19-22)

3) Jesus before Caiaphas (Mt 26:63-65)

4) Jesus before Pilate (Jn 18:35-37)

More in US

5) Jesus before Herod (Lk 23:8-9; 11)

6) Jesus before Pilate again (Mt 27:22-26)

7) Jesus’s crucifixion and death (Mt 27:27-31)

Reflecting on the passion of Christ

At the first church, the faithful recall Jesus going from the upper room, where he celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he earnestly prayed and sweated blood in his agony over what was about to take place.

In the second church, the pilgrims meditate on Jesus being taken from the Garden of Gethsemane by the armed crowd to the house of Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas the high priest, where he was interrogated and slapped in the face.

In the third church, the prayer focuses on Jesus being brought to the house of Caiaphas, where he was beaten, spat upon, insulted, and endured a painful night in captivity.

(Story continues below)

The focus of the reflection for the fourth church is the first time Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. There Jesus was accused by the Jewish religious authorities of being a rival king to Caesar.

In the fifth church, the pilgrim follows the Lord as he is taken to King Herod, who along with his guards mock him.

The sixth church recalls Jesus being taken from Herod and brought before Pilate for the second time and then scourged, crowned with thorns, mocked, and condemned to death.

The last church commemorates Christ carrying the cross on his shoulders from the Praetorium, where Pilate yielded to the crowd’s demand for his crucifixion, to Mount Calvary where he suffered excruciating pain, died, and was laid to rest in a nearby tomb until his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

This article was originally published on CNA on April 14, 2022, and was updated April 5, 2023.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.