This post is the first of eight in my series about the Catholic tradition of visiting Seven Churches on Holy Thursday. It serves as an introduction to the seven daily posts to follow. Each of those will be about a visit to one church, with the idea of the last post falling on Holy Thursday to complete the series.
Let’s talk about the tradition, what it’s all about, and how it got started. So, Holy Thursday is the feast day where Catholics celebrate the last supper. The priest takes the Eucharist off the main altar at the close of the mass, and places it on an altar of repose, away from the main altar of the church.
In the bible, it’s after the last supper that Jesus begins his journey to the cross. He visits seven ‘stations’, or places, before being condemned to death. These are not to be confused with the 14 “Stations of the Cross”. The seven stations include:
- Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane
- Jesus is bound and taken before Annas
- He (Jesus) is taken to the High Priest, Caiaphas
- Jesus is taken to Pilate
- He (Jesus) is taken to Herod
- Jesus is taken to Pilate again
- Jesus is given the crown of thorns and led away to be crucified
Basically, these stations are every place Jesus went after the last supper, up to and including receiving the crown of thorns. The tradition of visiting seven churches on this night is waiting for the crucifixion. Catholics carry on this tradition of waiting, as Jesus asked his disciples to wait in the garden, and afterwards as the disciples waited for the crucifixion.
At each church in turn Catholics kneel before the altar of repose, and meditate on the ‘station’. So, at the first church you meditate about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. At the second church, you meditate on Jesus being bound and taken before Annas, and so on.
That’s basically it in a nutshell. Now, while you’re reading these posts, I don’t want you to feel any pressure. For me, this is nostalgic as well as religious. But if you want, just read the stories of the churches and take a look at the photos. I’m only hoping these posts give you a few minutes of peace during this very stressful time.
Let’s Get Personal For a Minute
As a child, every year, my father would take us to visit seven churches on Good Friday morning. We didn’t go on Thursday night after the mass of the last supper, because my father worked afternoons. I don’t remember my mother ever coming with us. Probably either because her family never practiced the tradition, or she probably needed the house quiet so she could prepare for Easter Sunday. There were five of us kids (#6 came along later on), so it seems plausible that the latter was the case.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that my father grew up on the East Side in the Broadway/Fillmore neighborhood. He considers himself to be of 100% Polish descent. It’s what we’ve heard our whole lives from his parents, aunts and uncles. And it’s entirely possible, as Ancestry.com has me at 57% ‘Eastern European’.
I mention my Polish roots because Poland is one of the countries where this tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday is big. I mean really big. And it’s pretty big here in Buffalo too.
The Tradition of Visiting Seven Churches Continues
My family eventually got away from our ‘Good Friday pilgrimages’. But about 15 years ago, we picked it back up and started doing it again. My parents came along too. Later on, extended family joined in. Driving between East Side churches, my Dad would tell stories of his childhood. We used walkie talkies one year so the people not driving with him could hear his stories. Dad’s a great storyteller.
One year, my sister Kate (#6) mentioned that it was a shame that we’d been visiting these churches our whole lives, but had never attended mass at any of them. So, we started our own little mass mob. Before mass mobs were a thing. Each Sunday in lent, we’d attend mass at a different East Side church. Afterwards, we’d do something social, like go out to breakfast in the neighborhood of whatever church we were at that week. Various people joined us on various weeks. It was a lot of fun! (And we discovered Lucky’s on Clinton too!)
The Covid-19 Crisis Closes Churches
Covid-19 has certainly changed all of our lives. Not being able to attend mass has been a big change for an awful lot of people. Look, I know there are a lot of you reading this who have a problem with the Catholic Church. But there are many, many faithful Catholics in the Buffalo area.
I have been visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday evening for five years or so now. The last three on the Holy Roll – a take on Buffalo’s Slow Roll – travelling to each church on bikes, headed up by Fr. Jud Weiksnar and some of his friends. And this is why I have decided to write these posts. Because we cannot go to the churches this year, I want to bring the churches to you, Buffalo.
Our Buffalo churches are treasures. Both spiritually and architecturally, and in art. I once heard someone say that some of Buffalo’s churches rival the great churches of Europe. So even if you’re not Catholic, or religious, you will be able to appreciate the history (which I will tell you) and the photos of each of these treasures.
Try to keep in mind that although I’ve taken photos of these churches over the years, I am not able to go back and get the good shots I normally try to bring you in my posts. Perhaps I’ll have to make a point to do it when the churches reopen, and come back and add more photos later. Hmmm, another thing to put on my list of things to do when the lockdown ends.
Join us tomorrow for the first church, SS. Columba-Brigid.
I hope you enjoy these posts, and I sincerely hope that you are all well in mind, body and soul. Peace be with all of you.