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 masshas 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.
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.
Get the Book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!
Does your family follow many holiday traditions? You know, something that you always do? Could be something as small as listening to a particular Christmas album throughout December, or as big as having a huge New Year’s Eve party every year.
I guess traditions come naturally to me, because my family has a lot of them. We do little things together that make family and friends feel loved, and I guess a part of something. Like we belong. And let’s face it, we all want to feel like we belong, and we all want to feel loved. This is the reason we continue following traditions.
Reflecting on the upcoming holiday has inspired me to come up with some traditions to add to our list and to try to inspire you to create your own traditions.
I admit that when I sat down to start writing I was thinking in terms of going to tree lighting events, shopping artisan markets, and a couple of other typical things.
Now, these are all great things to do with people you love. And I’m certainly going to get to some of these events this year. But I got thinking about it, and aren’t these already a lot of people’s traditions? All the usuals that we’ve been hearing about for a long, long time? If we really wanted to do any of these, wouldn’t we already be doing it?! So I decided to dig deep and really think about what types of things could turn into real, long lasting, enjoyable traditions.
This is what I came up with.
Get Outdoors, But Make it an Event
Put the electronics away. Not allowed just for this one time. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.
Take the kids out to a local park, or any old hill, and do some sledding. Don’t have kids? Get together with friends and get out there and channel your inner child. Either way, it’ll be fun! Even if you can’t personally sled for one reason or another. Head out to a local hill with a friend or two and watch. The fun is contagious. Just watching everyone else can be a blast!
Also, it doesn’t have to be a big production. Beg, borrow or steal a sled, a disc, a tube or a toboggan. Okay, don’t steal anything. My point is, that you don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on the best sleds for each family member. The kids won’t remember the sleds anyway. They’ll remember the time spent with each other, laughing and having a great time!
Do a quick search of your area and find an ice skating rink. Buffalo has the Canalside Rink and it’s fabulous, but there are plenty of places to skate in the area. Wherever you are, look around and find one that works best for you.
Don’t want to do either of these? Get out to a park and just take a walk. Last December, I took my two nephews to Delaware Park and hiked around Hoyt Lake with them. It was cold, but the kids were adventurous, and we had a great time. Afterwards, we came back to my house and had a simple lunch, and talked and laughed! Maybe I’ll take them on another winter hike this year, and turn it into our own little tradition.
Don’t have kids, or not taking them with you? Head out for wings and beer after. Or to a nice restaurant for a scrumptious meal. It’s your tradition, your call.
Live in a warm climate? Any outdoor activity will do. These are just ideas. The point here is to slow down during a hectic time of year, and just enjoy each other. With no interruptions from cell phones etc. Make some memories.
Baking | Cooking as a Holiday Tradition
I know this might seem like a typical tradition, but here’s my twist on it.
Does your family have a special cookie recipe? Cuccidati’s (Italian fig cookies) maybe? Or did your grandmother make homemade pasta? How about pierogies? (We are in Buffalo after all!) Or maybe there’s something that you’ve always wanted to make for the holidays, but you just haven’t gotten around to making it happen.
Now’s the time to go ahead and plan it. Invite some friends and family over and do it together. Trust me, it’ll be way more fun than doing it alone. Don’t worry about how big (or small) your house is, or how clean it is etc. Nobody cares about that stuff. Just plan it.
Get the kids involved too. They love taking part in simple but special things like this. I recently had my mother over to bake cookies. My daughter in law and granddaughter were here too. Now, my granddaughter is only two, but we pulled a chair up to the counter and let her pour the flour, baking soda, cinnamon etc. into the bowl. We let her ‘form’ the dough and place it on the cookie sheet. She loved it! And so did I. I will forever cherish this memory when four generations were here baking cookies together.
So, if you’ve been thinking about making something (baking, or cooking, or whatever it is) make a day of it and do it with your loved ones. You won’t ever regret the memories you’ll make. Come to think of it, I tried to make my mother’s golumpke recipe one year, (pronounced go-wump-ke, cabbage rolls in Polish) but they were only mediocre at best. Maybe it’s because I was alone when I made them. Just sayin.
Seriously though, make a tradition of things like this. The memories will last a lifetime.
And when you’re pierogies are ready, share some with the people you borrowed those sleds from.
Holiday Traditions – Weeknight Get-togethers
Tim and I started doing these several years back now. We’re usually off between Christmas and New Years, so it was easy for us to plan little get togethers during that week with people we wanted to get together with but wouldn’t be seeing on the actual holiday itself.
For example, last year we had a get together for our ‘slow roll’ friends. (Don’t know what a slow roll is? Click here to find out.) We go to as many Slow Rolls as possible each year and we’ve made friends along the way. Last year we decided to start a new holiday tradition to have them all over during the holidays. We included every one of our friends that we rolled with the previous summer. Even if they only made it to one. A lot of people showed up, and we had a great party.
These types of get togethers are easy to host. A little bit of effort, that’s all. Just a couple of appetizers, some beer, wine, soft drinks. We’ve found that since this is Buffalo, some people will bring an appetizer or drinks to share as well. It’s who we are as Buffalonians. It’s really not about the food though, it’s about the people.
I think that last year at our slow roll get together, we were all pleasantly surprised at how much fun we all had! We were all so happy to see each other! We really have made some good friends at our Monday night bike rides through the city!
Try it. Invite some friends from work over. Or some old friends from high school or college. Or just some people you’d really like to see, but life has gotten in the way, and it’s been awhile. Do it. You won’t regret it!
‘Invite a Friend’ Holiday Tradition
This is exactly what it sounds like. If you know someone who will most likely be alone this holiday, and this time I mean right on the actual holiday, for one reason or another, why not invite them to your family’s celebration?
Growing up with five brothers and sisters, I can’t imagine being alone on a major holiday. About ten years ago, a coworker mentioned that she didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving, so I invited her to have dinner with us. Most of my family would be there, including my parents, several siblings, inlaws, cousins, nieces and nephews. You should know that family dinners at our house are usually bedlam. Lots of people, always lots of kids. Always casual, and well, loud.
Now, this woman that I had invited for dinner was, shall we say, quiet. Shy. Very reserved.
After I picked her up we were not even in the house yet, when my cousin arrived and threw his arms around me in his usual bear hug greeting, and when I introduced my friend, he did the same to her, and said, ‘Any friend of Cousin Ellen’s is a friend of mine!’. She turned beet red, definitely did NOT hug him back, and for a split second, I thought she was going to die!
During dinner, we all went around the table saying what we were thankful for that year, and my friend joined in at her turn, and said, ‘I’m happy to be here, having dinner with all of you crazy people!” She told me later that she had a ball, and was so happy we had invited her. I was happy she had come.
So, think about it. Is there someone, possibly even a distant family member, who would be alone this holiday if you do not invite them to be with you and your family?
Or, to take this a step further, have a ‘chosen family’ holiday tradition. Say you live away from family and cannot possibly make it home for the holidays for whatever reason. You can still have a holiday. Invite some friends (and maybe even just acquaintances) to celebrate the holiday with you. Other people are alone too. Make it a pot-luck, or get together early and cook together. Or order in. Who says that because you’ve no family close by that you shouldn’t be able to celebrate? It may mean putting yourself out there a bit, but this might end up being a holiday tradition you’ll be really glad you started. And hey, you never know, you could end up with some real, lasting friendships to boot.
My Impressions on Creating New Holiday Traditions
Holiday traditions can be old, new or in between. They can be as traditional as an old Eastern European meal that has been enjoyed by generations of family every Christmas Eve for the past hundred years. Or as new as a friend of mine who recently shared that for the past three years, her family makes their own pizzas together on Christmas Eve, and they eat the leftovers for breakfast on Christmas morning! Holiday traditions can be expensive and elaborate, like getting dressed up and going out to the fanciest restaurant in town for an incredibly rich meal, or as simple as heading out for a walk around the neighborhood to look at the holiday lights with your grandchildren.
The important thing is that they’re yours, and that you make the effort to create them. And keep them going. If they make just one person feel like they belong and that they are loved, then they’re worth the effort.
What traditions will you keep going this year, in Buffalo and beyond? Comment below, I’d really like to know!