Seven Churches Visitation
The Seven Churches Visitation is a Christian, especially Roman Catholic, Lenten tradition to visit seven churches on the evening of Maundy Thursday. Following the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is placed on the Altar of Repose in the church for Adoration. During the Seven Churches Visitation, the faithful visit several churches – sometimes seven, sometimes fourteen, sometimes no set number depending upon the particular practice – to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church. The Seven Churches Visitation has been done in an ecumenical context, involving Christians of the Catholic, Methodist, Episcopal, Aglipayan, and Salvationist traditions, among others.
The tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday probably originated in Rome, as early pilgrims visited the seven basilicas as penance.
The Via Francigena was an ancient pilgrim route between England and Rome. It was customary to end the pilgrimage with a visit to the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul. In 1300 Pope Boniface VIII declared the first Holy Year, granting a special indulgence to those, who meeting the requisite conditions, visited St. Peter's Basilica and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Over time, the number of prescribed churches increased to seven.
The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started by Philip Neri around 1553. He and a few friends would gather before dawn and set out on their "Seven Churches Walk". These pilgrimages were designed to be a counterpoint to the raucous behavior of Carnival. The Walks became very popular and began to attract others.
HOW IT IS DONE
After the Mass of the Lord's Supper, during which Christians remember Jesus Christ's last meal with his Apostles on the night that he was arrested, the faithful remember Jesus's Agony in the Garden. After Mass, the main altar and most side altars are stripped; all crosses are either removed or covered; the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a tabernacle on the Altar of Repose, and churches are open late for silent adoration. This is in response to the request Jesus made to his apostles while they were in the Garden of Gethsemane, as recorded in Gospel of Matthew 26:40, "Could you not, then, watch one hour with me?"
Those who practice this visitation leave the church where they attended the Mass of the Lord's Supper and travel to nearby churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. This is more common in urban areas where churches are in close proximity, thus making traveling easier. There are no set prayers in the Catholic Church for this devotion, except to pray for the intentions of the reigning Pope and recite the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, and Gloria BE.