Visiting Churches on Holy Thursday

monstrance for Adoration

As we enter into the three days we know as the Triduum—beginning with Holy Thursday—many Catholics will once again take part in an ancient ritual of visiting churches (the Visita Iglesia) after the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper—a local “mini-pilgrimage.”

The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper ends with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, which is then placed in reposition (on a special altar) so that the faithful may remain in vigil until 11 p.m. or midnight. As a result, Catholic churches are unlocked on this evening, providing Catholics with an opportunity to visit a variety of parishes, especially in urban areas where a cluster of churches may be within just a few miles of one another. Traditionally, Catholics visit seven parishes on this night (symbolic of the ancient practice of visiting the seven basilicas of Rome as an act of penance: Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter, Saint Mary Major, Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, Saint Lawrence Outside-the-Walls,  Saint Sebastian Outside-the-Walls [replaced in 2000 by the Sanctuary of Divine Love], and Holy Cross in Jerusalem), ideally ending up at the cathedral of the diocese. However, this mini-pilgrimage can take any shape or form depending on your circumstances. The goal is to spend a few minutes in each church, praying before the Blessed Sacrament, and keeping vigil on the night that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, asking his disciples to stay awake with him.

For Catholics, the notion of going on pilgrimage—even a mini-pilgrimage such as this one—represents our recognition that we are on a journey to life with God in the fullness of his Kingdom. Our life on earth is not merely something to be tolerated as we await our true destination. Rather, our life on earth is a journey, and we encounter God along the way. As Catholics, we symbolize this journey by making pilgrimages to holy places. Participants in a pilgrimage are not just travelers; they are pilgrims. To be a pilgrim is to be on a sacred journey in search of fulfillment in God. As a Church, we are a “pilgrim people,” traveling together toward our God. As a sacramental people, a pilgrimage is just one more example of how we embody our faith.

This is a great tradition for families to engage in, and children enjoy the idea of being out late and walking into the prayerful, darkened spaces of the various churches—a wonderfully catechetical experience of encountering Mystery. I remember this experience as a child and fondly recall taking my own kids to visit churches on Holy Thursday. To this day, my wife and I continue this tradition, which sets the tone for the solemnity of the remainder of the Triduum.

What has been your experience of visiting churches on Holy Thursday? What is catechetical about this experience?

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I took my mother to 3 churches on holy Thursday. I spent 3 hours in church on Good Friday at a high mass. Rember those? I was a good Catholic girl. I went to mass and communion every day for 40 days of lent. I have the fondest memories of holy Thursday for teenagers.

  2. I have participated in this tradition for over 50 years. Our family did so every year as my father was a member of the Catholic War Veterans and Holy Name Society. We went to seven churches in two nearby cities and said prayers at them all. Back in the late 40’s and 50’s, churches were open until dawn and members took watch all night to ensure the Blessed Sacrament was never abandoned.
    My Dad is now 95 in a nursing home and isn’t able to go any longer but my wife and I continue this special devotion to “watch and pray” with Jesus on this most holy night of the week that changed the world.

  3. This is a beautiful tradition that I really wasn’t aware of. Someone mentioned visiting three churches but it really is seven. The tradition of spending time with Jesus like in prayer at the garden of Gethsemine on Holy Thursday I will do 2022. Thank you for the above article I found it most informative about a Catholic tradition.

  4. I grew up going to 3 Churches on Holy Thursday to represent the Holy Trinity. I went with my nana, my mom and my aunt, all who have passed away. I will carry on this beautiful tradition on the Holy Thursday 2022.

  5. Beginning on Holy Thursday. Our family visited 3 churches on Holy Thursday to represent The Trinity and the last judgement, Crucifixion, and death of Jesus. My grandmother did tell me that it was a tradition in Italy and we were to ask God for a special favor at each of church. This year for some reason I decided to continue this tradition. I also made a promise to myself that I would do this in support of the people of Ukraine and wish them peace.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, John! That is a beautiful tradition and your prayers this year for the people of Ukraine are so timely and much-needed.

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