Every year on Holy Thursday night, pilgrims across the global Church visit churches to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Historians posit that this tradition originates from the nascent Church, when ancient Christians in Rome traversed to various holy sites as a form of penance. After Boniface VIII inaugurated the Holy Year in 1300, the tradition of visiting the sacred sites of the caput mundi continued in earnest.
Most notably, St. Philip Neri popularized the tradition in the 16th century, when fellow Christians would walk and pray at the seven major churches of Rome: the four major basilicas, St. John Lateran; St. Paul’s Outside the Walls; St. Mary Major; St. Peter’s at the Vatican; and the three minor basilicas, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls; St. Sebastian Outside the Walls; and the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Contemporary Romans continue this tradition to this very day on Wednesday of Holy Week. They continue their pilgrimage late into the night on Holy Thursday following the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, where every church sets aside a magnificent altar of repose for the faithful to adore Christ in preparation for Good Friday.
This venerable tradition reminds us of the pilgrimage every Christian takes toward his eternal homeland. Visiting various churches on Thursday night also unites the pilgrim to the suffering Lord, who asked his disciples, “Could you not keep watch with me for one hour?” (Mt 26:40). Local pastors in the Diocese of Providence will open the doors on Holy Thursday for this very purpose. The faithful will benefit from these great spiritual practices at the heart of Holy Week.