On Holy Thursday, after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Saint John the Evangelist in Indianapolis, Indiana many pilgrims set out on a pilgrimage. Pastor, Fr. Rick Nagel led the 7th annual ancient practice of visiting seven churches. Each of the churches has an Altar of Repose of the Blessed Sacrament varying from simple to elaborate. Personally, I have a deep appreciation for the liturgy and sacred decorum of this holy night having led the preparations at my parish for many years.
While most of the world went to sleep as usual, many Catholic pilgrims ventured out by foot, car or bus to keep Jesus company on the eve of his Crucifixion. The Blessed Sacrament is usually taken on a procession through the Church after Mass and reposed in the tabernacle until midnight or until the Good Friday Communion service.
Our group was not small. We tried to enter each Church as reverently as any large group of pilgrims can, in order to pray. Ater a few minutes of kneeling, Fr. Rick Nagel began to sing in order to facilitate a smooth departure. Pilgrims joined in: “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray.”
We visited the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul and the churches of Saint Mary, Saint Michael, Saint Patrick, Holy Rosary and Sacred Heart before returning to Saint John the Evangelist to pray. In between each stop, we prayed a decade of the rosary focusing our attention on the virtues.
I was moved by the entire evening from start to finish. Being in the presence of Our Lord and kneeling seven times is profound. There is no denying it. It is a time for intense devotion for the Most Holy Sacrament, prayer and adoration as we enter into the Triduum.
One of the most moving moments was upon entering Saint Patrick’s Church. It is an enormous very old gothic church and seemingly run down. History has it that it was supposed to be torn down due to lack of funds and attendance but was saved when a Spanish congregation moved in. The Altar of Repose was adorned in beautifully depicted Spanish woven tapestries with Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego situated close by. A parishioner was singing lovely hymns in Spanish and instrumentalists accompanied her heartfelt lyrics. I could not understand a word she was singing but I felt the incredible presence of Our Lord in her tears. What was completly clear to me was the universal church of prayer was joined together at this place and moment in time.
The history of this ancient tradition dates back to the earliest days of Christianity. The annual Lenten pilgrimage to dozens of Rome’s most striking churches is a sacred tradition that still stands today. Each time I participate year in and year out, I understand more and more and feel called to share this beautiful tradition with others. Visiting the Altar of Repose originally stems from pilgrims visiting seven churches as a form of penance including Saint Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, St. Laurence Outside the Walls, Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Love.
There was one scripture that resonated within me. It kept coming back to me over and over again, each time I kneeled down. Matthew 18:20-22. “For wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”