Altars of Repose the Focus of Old Yet New Tradition
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 13, 2023
ROCKFORD—Many years ago, Kathy Walls’ grandmother would create paper flowers to decorate the altar of repose at her parish.
Her dedication to that task eventually led her daughter, Mary Jo Keffer, and granddaughter to visit various altars the evening of Holy Thursday each year. This year, Keffer and Walls welcomed anyone who wished to participate in a carpool caravan to 10 parishes in the city after Holy Family Parish’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
The mother and daughter typically would pray a decade of the rosary at each altar of repose during their annual visits. Last year, after welcoming a few friends to come along, Walls was told about the tradition called Seven Churches Visitation. This year, 
Altars of Repose
During Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord's Supper, a sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for the faithful to receive Communion both at that Mass and at the Good Friday liturgy the next day. The hosts intended for the Good Friday service are not placed in the tabernacle, but are left in a container (ciborium or other sacred vessel) on the altar, while the priest says the post communion prayer. The container is then carried in solemn procession to a place of reservation somewhere in the church, or in an appropriately adorned chapel. The Blessed Sacrament remains in that temporary place until holy Communion on Good Friday.
After the Good Friday service, the altars of repose are dismantled. Holy Communion remains available as viaticum for the dying in a less conspicuous location, such as a locked cabinet in the sacristy. While the receptacle remains in such a temporary tabernacle, a lamp or candle is kept continuously burning before it.
The practice has developed among the faithful of traveling from one church to another Holy Thursday evening to pray in front of different churches' altars of repose, a practice called Seven Churches Visitation. According to Catholic News Agency, the Seven Churches Visitation (or Pilgrimage) is credited as beginning in Rome with St. Philip Neri in the 1500s. He would lead groups of faithful to visit each of the seven basilicas of Rome on Holy Thursday night as a way of keeping watch with Christ as though at the Garden of Gethsemane before His passion.
The tradition can be found in countries around the world.
Walls created a paper for pilgrims to use if they wished that provided the Bible passages for each of seven “stations” of Jesus’ Passion.
Those passages are: Luke 22:39-46; John 18:19-22; Matthew 26:63-65; John 18:35-37; Luke 23:8-9,11; Matthew 27:22-26; and Matthew 27:27-31. Other prayers may be added or said instead, and a period of adoration observed.
Walls also called each Rockford parish for times and locations of their altars of repose. Her chart of the parishes’ information and a map were provided to anyone who wished to join the caravan or go from church to church on their own. People did both, and often came across people they knew from other parishes who were observing the same tradition. 
In fact, as Holy Family clergy were bringing the Eucharist to its altar of repose in the parish’s Frassati Room, a group from St. Peter Parish in South Beloit led by Father Joel Lopez entered to pray.
The Holy Family caravan began at the Cathedral of St. Peter, followed by visits to St. James, St. Mary Oratory, the Poor Clare Colettines monastery, St. Anthony of Padua, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Edward, St. Rita, St. Bridget and back to Holy Family. Time constraints prevented visits to St. Bernadette and St. Patrick in Rockford, St. Peter in South Beloit and St. James in Belvidere. However, information to those four parishes was provided.
Because it was difficult for all the cars in the pilgrimage to stay together, both Walls and Father Phillip Kaim, pastor, are speculating about the possibility of renting a bus for the little pilgrimage next year.
At any rate, an old tradition became new again at Holy Family Parish, and many are excited about participating next year.


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