Re-visiting Church Visitations on Maundy Thursday
April 6th 2023
During the pandemic years, churches were closed and parishioners had to ‘book’ their slots to attend Mass. The tradition of visiting churches during Maundy Thursday came to a halt. This year, Agnes Gabriel (see photo below), founder-member of the Genesis Neighbourhood Christian Community (NCC), made the decision to re-start this mini-pilgrimage to a number of churches and thus ‘accompany’ Jesus on the stages he went through before his crucifixion. Agnes was joined by a group of 30 comprising her friends and other NCC members to visit 5 churches beginning with the Church of St Stephen. Along the way, participants prayed the Rosary on our chartered bus and sang hymns from a specially prepared booklet.
Genesis NCC in Bishan had first begun organising church visitations after being encouraged by the late Fr Louis Loiseau, when he was their Spiritual Director. This tradition is credited to St Philip Neri and is practiced by Catholics around the world, especially Poland, Mexico, Italy, the Philippines and the US. The devotion can also be traced back to the Churches of Rome.
St Stephen’s Church was an apt choice for our first stop because it had created a beautiful Garden of Gethsemane for its Altar of Repose symbolising Christ’s Agony in the Garden and hence the first stage that Jesus went through after the Last Supper. This was where the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was done by parishioners and visitors like us.
Our next stop was the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Sandy Lane. After doing their private adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, participants dropped by the beautiful Marian Grotto and Divine Mercy shrine.
Next, we visited the Church of the Holy Family. Along the way, participants were given information about each of the churches we would be visiting. For example, this Church has a very long history as its origins go way back to 1902! It has since been re-built a number of times.
Our next stop: the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Siglap.
Finally, it was back to ‘home base’, our very own Church of the Risen Christ for us to do our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament here and complete our mini-pilgrimage. Of course, no visit to our own church is complete without a stop at the grotto. Thus ended our meaningful Church Visitations on Maundy Thursday.
What are my thoughts about this whole experience?
Well, I finally understood what visiting churches was all about. I remember following my family to visit churches in my area in my childhood and early teens, decades ago. It was an interesting experience and I remember following my mother as she genuflected on both knees before entering the pew at each church.
However, I had no idea why we were visiting churches in this solemn manner and hence when I was an adult made no attempt to continue with it. This year I found out that this beautiful international tradition consists of visiting 7 churches to coincide with the 7 stages Jesus went through between the Last Supper to His crucifixion on the cross. (Due to obvious time constraints, our group could only visit 5 churches.) What were the 7 stages or ‘stations’?
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
Jesus bound and taken before Annas
Jesus taken before the High Priest, Caiaphas
Jesus taken before Pilate
Jesus taken before Herod
Jesus taken before Pilate again and scourged
Jesus crowned with thorns and led to his crucifixion.
What else did I learn from this mini-pilgrimage?
I was asked to share some information about the churches we would be visiting with our fellow-pilgrims as we went on this ‘journey’ with Christ on His last night on Earth. As a result of doing this research, I realised that local churches had often started due to the initiative of foreign missionaries (or fervent locals as in the case of the Church of the Holy Family). Another common factor was that local communities very often outgrew the existing buildings and parish priests put in a lot of effort to raise funds to build and re-build. At every step of the way came support from local Catholic communities. I also realised that there is something special about visiting churches which we do not normally go to, on Maundy Thursday, and joining in with Catholics from other parts of Singapore for the common purpose of spending time with Jesus.
It made me feel like ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic church’.
Today, Christians are the second largest religious group in Singapore (after Buddhists) and Catholics comprise 37% of all Christians. We have many beautiful Catholic churches in Singapore, 32 to be exact.
If you are Interested to visit some next Maundy Thursday, do join us!
By: Rita Lopez (Genesis NCC Coordinator)