As a child, I always looked forward to Visita Iglesia on Maundy Thursday. To me, Visita Iglesia was fun because we stopped at churches and restaurants as well. My father always had an icebox filled with cold soda in the trunk of his car during those trips and my mother always prepared goodies we could munch on.
A Road Trip
Before my aunts on my mother’s side migrated, Visita Iglesia was not complete without them. It always began at the Sta. Ana Church because it was the first Catholic Church we would pass from their ancestral home. We would visit shrines like the Sto. Domingo Church (Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Naval de Manila), Quiapo Church (Shrine of the Black Nazarene), Sampaloc Church (Shrine of Saint Anthony of Padua), the National Shrine of Saint Jude near Malacañang, and the Baclaran Church (National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help). We would visit the tiny chapel at the American Cemetery on McKinley Road which used to be part of Fort Bonifacio and eventually end up at the Lourdes Church in Tagaytay.
Somehow, the trip more than compensated for the following day’s somber mood. Good Friday Mass and the Siete Palabras (Seven Last Words) in church (and later on television) lasted for hours. As if on cue, the skies would darken during the final minutes as we waited at the barandilla below the large windows of the old house. We were no longer allowed to sing, play or make noise once the television and radio stations signed off at three o’clock. I asked why this was so and I was told that Christ had just died. I did not understand why we had to slow down because I knew Jesus wasn’t really dead. On the contrary, the events are commemorated during the Holy Week precisely because we believe that we too have been given eternal life.
Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday or Huwebes Santo begins with what is known as the Triduum—the three days of Christ’s stay in the tomb until his resurrection on Easter, which marks the end of Lent. Though there are many theories as to the origins of the practice of Visita Iglesia, it has become a tradition especially in the Philippines to go to seven (or fourteen) churches on Maundy Thursday, where devotees visit each Church’s altar of repose. It is also the day we commemorate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion, the priesthood and the Mass. Only one mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday and the bread turned into the Body of Christ is brought to the altar of repose, to be distributed the following day on Good Friday. http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Holy_Thursday.htm This is what we visit in each of the churches we go to. However, it has also become common practice to do the Way of the Cross during the Visita Iglesia.
As to why the day is called Maundy Thursday, the FreeDictionary explains that it is the traditional English name for Holy Thursday because it is the anniversary of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper or the mandatum novum and that in Great Britain, it is customary for the sovereign to distribute “maundy money” to the poor. http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Visita+iglesia
Passing It On
Today, we continue the tradition with our own children. We were so tentative about it because it was difficult to do with young children. We had an old VW Beetle then and it often broke down. One day, I asked friends whose children were slightly older than ours if they would consider doing it with our family. The brake cable of our Beetle broke in the morning of that Holy Thursday right in front of a shop that sold only Volkswagen parts. To me, that was a sign that we had to say thank you and visit all those churches. From that time on, we would do the Visita Iglesia in Metro Manila every year. The kids have grown and they still look forward to doing the rounds of those churches with us.
While doing research on Maundy Thursday and Holy Week rituals, I came across a Catholic site that had this explanation:
This Holy Thursday liturgy has the Elect in mind, and it is a wonderful night for children. On this night we act out the meaning of the Eucharist, the meaning of our salvation, and the meaning of discipleship. In our preparing for Holy Thursday, it helps to enter into this experience as a member of a community that desires to show to our newest and youngest members, who we are and who we desire to be. http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/Lent/prep-holythursday.html
And then I understood the magic of the ritual I had enjoyed as a child. It was not simply a road trip, but the beginning of a spiritual journey that I hope my own children would someday take on their own and come to understand in the same way I have.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.