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Spending the night with Jesus on Holy Thursday

By Patricia Kasten | On Mission

GREEN BAY — This year, Bishop David Ricken and the Diocese of Green Bay will continue a local Holy Thursday tradition that started most recently in 2015. It was paused during the pandemic and resumed in 2023 and is known as “the Seven Churches Visitation.”

Bigstockphoto.com Stained glass image of the Agony in the Garden in the Basilica St. Clotilde in Paris, France.

The visitation will begin after the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on March 28 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay and the transfer of the Eucharist to the altar of response. 

After prayer, the faithful will be invited to travel to seven local Catholic churches and pray before the reserved Eucharist in the altar of repose to honor the last hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

This year’s visitation will also reflect upon the Seven Last Words of Christ — one “word,” which is a sentence — at each of the seven churches.

“The gift of the Seven Churches Visitation after Holy Thursday services is an opportunity to enter into communion with Christ in his Agony in the Garden and to do so in communion with our parish neighbors,” Bishop Ricken explained in 2023. “We do so symbolically by visiting seven parishes who have prepared a dignified space for people to spend time with Jesus.”

The bishop added that these hours of reflection help remind participants of “Jesus’ challenging words to the Apostles that first Holy Thursday night, ‘Can you not stay awake with me for even one hour?’”

In the Diocese of Green Bay, the Seven Churches visitation begins at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral at 8:30 p.m. Buses will take participants to the other churches, returning to the cathedral at midnight. Participants are also welcome to travel by their own vehicles and join the visitation at any point in the journey.

This year’s seven churches and times of arrival are:

  • St. Mary, Ledgeview – 9:05 p.m.
  • Prince of Peace, Green Bay, 9:40 p.m.
  • St. Philip the Apostle, Green Bay, 10:10 p.m.
  • St. Mary of the Angels, Green Bay: 10:32 p.m.
  • Annunciation, Green Bay, 11:08 p.m.
  • Nativity of Our Lord, Ashwaubenon, 11:30 p.m.
  • St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay, 12 a.m., midnight

Registration is required to reserve a seat on the buses. Register by email to Arvilla Rusnak at [email protected]. There are only 40 seats available.

The Seven Last Words of Christ were spoken by Jesus on the Cross. They are:

  • “Father, forgive them for they know now what they are doing” (Lk. 23:23);
  • “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43);
  • “Woman, behold you son. Son, behold your mother” (Jn 19:26);
  • “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46 and Mk 15:34);
  • “I thirst” (Jn 19:28);
  • “It is finished” (Jn 19:30);
  • “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

The beginnings of the Seven Churches Visitation are often credited to St. Philip Neri (1515-1595). His prayer pilgrimage was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1586 as an “indulgenced devotion. Indulgences are believed to be of assistance to a soul, especially after death.

In the 16th century, even though the Roman Carnival season (similar to modern Mardi Gras) ended as Lent began, a party atmosphere lingered in Rome. So, St. Philip Neri and several companions began an annual one-day excursion to visit seven churches, often accompanied by music and prayer. The day would end with a picnic at the gardens in what is now the Villa Celimontana. 

The itinerary was meant to resemble what pilgrims of the day experienced while visiting Rome: pray at religious sites, especially the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.

The seven churches St. Philip visited included these sites:

  • St. Peter’s Basilica (with the tomb of St. Peter);
  • Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls (with the tomb of St. Paul);
  • Basilica of St. John Lateran (the mother church of Rome and the papal cathedral);
  • Basilica of St. Mary Major; 
  • Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls; 
  • Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem; 

·  St. Sebastian Outside the Walls. In 2000, St. John Paul II changed the last church from St. Sebastian to Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love (Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore).

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