Filipinos observed Holy Week 2018 from March 25-31, and foreign tourists asked me: “What is Visita Iglesia?”
VISITA IGLESIA (or SEVEN CHURCHES VISITATION) is the Roman Catholic Lenten practice to visit seven (and even 14) churches during Holy Week, traditionally on the evening of Maundy Thursday, to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in each church, according to the Wikipedia page “Seven Churches Visitation”.1
There are no set prayers given by the Catholic Church for this activity, except to pray for the intentions of the Pope and recite the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Some may opt to pray the Stations of the Cross2.
Historically, this Lenten observance was started by Saint Philip Neri3 around 1553. He initiated the tradition of making a one-day pilgrimage to seven churches, starting from St. Peter’s Basilica (www.varicanstate.va) and ending at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (www.vatican.va), often with music and a picnic on the way, according to the Wikipedia page “Philip Neri”.
The Catholic Church commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples through the Mass of the Lord’s Supper or Service of Worship for Maundy Thursday, along with the “Washing of the Feet” reenactment. The chancels4 are traditionally stripped, with the altars often draped with black paraments5, in preparation for Good Friday, and as a symbol of humiliation and barrenness of the cross, according to Wikipedia page “Mass of the Lord’s Supper”.6 Countries slightly vary on the observance of this Lenten tradition.
In the Philippines, Catholics generally visit seven churches, traditionally either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, but nowadays, any day of the Holy Week. They recite two Stations of the Cross per church. Seniors, and those who are sick and are not able to travel, visit just one church, while those who are very pious and able, tend to visit fourteen churches — one for each Station — usually accompanied by family members and/or or parish members, serving also as bonding time as well as an opportunity to sample the local cuisine and enjoy sites in the towns/cities visited. Offerings can be made at each church and to the poor as a form of almsgiving. There is even a bicycle tour, called “Bisikleta Iglesia”, organized in 2010, with a route covering seven churches.1
I had a very early Visita Iglesia this year in Laguna with two of my elementary batchmates, one of whom is a balikbayan (returning Filipino) and whom I have not seen since elementary graduation (please don’t ask when LOL). I toured them in different towns and saw to it that we were able to visit seven churches, which I will feature one by one in this blog in the future, but for now, I will only mention them and show some pictures.
We visited the following towns (and their parish churches): Pakil (San Pedro de Alcantara Church), Pangil (Nuestra Señora de la Natividad Parish Church), Paete (Saint James the Apostle Parish Church), Lumban (San Sebastian Parish Curch), Pagsanjan (Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church), Liliw (Saint John the Baptist Church) and Pila (San Antonio de Padua Parish Church). We skipped Sta. Cruz, Laguna, because the Immaculate Concepcion Parish Church was closed when we went there. I will feature these churches in future posts.
Pakil, Laguna – SAN PEDRO DE ALCANTARA PARISH CHURCH’s altar (church was founded in 1676)
Pangil, Laguna – NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA NATIVIDAD PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1579)
Paete, Laguna – SAINT JAMES THE APOSTLE PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1580)
Lumban, Laguna – SAN SEBASTIAN PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1578)
Pagsanjan, Laguna – OUR LADY OF GUDALUPE PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1687)
Liliw, Laguna – SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1605)
Pila, Laguna – SAN ANTONIO DE PADUA PARISH CHURCH (founded in 1578)
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1 “Seven Churches Visitation,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Churches_Visitation.
2The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, Ways of Sorrow, or Via Crucis, refers to the series of fourteen images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of His crucifixion and accompanying prayers, considered to be patterned after Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which is believed to be the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The devotion of Roman Catholics to do the Way of the Cross during Holy Week is like a spiritual pilgrimage through the contemplation of the Passion of Christ (the final period of the life of Jesus from His entrance in Jerusalem till His crucifixion on Mount Calvary). The 14 stations are: (1) Pilate condemns Jesus to die; (2) Jesus accepts His cross; (3) Jesus falls for the first time; (4) Jesus meets His mother, Mary; (5) Simon helps carry the cross; (6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; (7) Jesus falls for the second time; (8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; (9) Jesus falls for the third time; (10) Jesus is stripped of His clothes; (11) Jesus is nailed to the cross; (12) Jesus dies on the cross; (13) Jesus is taken down from the cross; and, (14) Jesus is placed in the tomb. All these are according to the Wikipedia page “Stations of the Cross”.7
3Saint Philip Neri (Philip Romolo Neri or Flippo Romolo Neri) was an Italian priest known for a society of secular clergy called the Congregation of the Oratory. He is called the Third Apostle of Rome, after Saints Peter and Paul, according to the Wikipedia page “Philip Neri”.8
4A chancel is the space around the altar, including the choir and the sanctuary, of a traditional Christian church building, according to the Wikipedia page “Chancel”.9
5Paraments are the ornaments of a room of state, like the liturgical hangings on and around the altar, the cloths hanging from the pulpit and lectern, as well as the ecclesiastical vestments, mitres, and altar cloths, with colors changing on the season of the year (e.g., purple for Lent and white for Christmas and Easter), according to the Wikipedia page “Parament”.10
6“Mass of the Lord’s Supper,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_of_the_Lord’s_Supper.
7”Stations of the Cross,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stations_of_the_Cross.
8“Philip Neri,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Neri.
9 “Chancel,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chancel.
10“Parament,” accessed March 21, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parament.