By Ann Schneible
ROME, APRIL 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- At the close of the Holy Thursday services, one finds, in nearly every darkened church in Rome, a single altar which has been lit and richly adorned with candles and flowers; here, the Blessed Sacrament rests in the Altar of Repose to await the coming of Good Friday.
Between the conclusion of Holy Thursday Mass and midnight, the city streets are filled with pilgrims flocking from one church to another, with the intent of venerating at least seven of the hundreds of Altars of Repose throughout Rome.
While it is not clear where the tradition of visiting seven churches on Holy Thursday first originated, it may be rooted in the early Christian tradition of visiting sites which were significant to Christ’s Passion. In Rome, the custom is closely tied to the visitation of the seven major basilicas (St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Wall, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, and St. Sebastian).
Venerating the Altars of Repose on the evening of Holy Thursday gives the faithful the opportunity to pass the evening with the Lord, recalling his suffering and loneliness as he waited for his crucifixion. The finery with which the Tabernacle is traditionally decorated also offers a reminder of the glory of the Resurrection which is the imminent conclusion of the Easter Triduum.
“To Holy Thursday also belongs the dark night of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus goes with his disciples; the solitude and abandonment of Jesus, who in prayer goes forth to encounter the darkness of death… Let us try at this hour to understand more deeply something of these events, for in them the mystery of our redemption takes place,” Benedict XVI said this evening in his homily for the Mass of the Last Supper.