Why “Visita Iglesia”?

Visita Iglesia is a traditional practice of Roman Catholics around the world. In the Philippines, many Catholics participate in this tradition of visiting 7 different churches during the “Holy Week,” particularly on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

St. John the Baptist Church, Liliw, Laguna, Philippines (click image to enlarge)
St. John the Baptist Parish Church, Liliw, Laguna, Philippines, founded 1605 (click image to enlarge)

This tradition is attached to magic and superstition commonly attached to the number 7, such as the so-called 7 ancient basilicas of Rome, usually to obtain the plenary indulgence or penance. Some claim that this is rooted in the 7 stops (visits or stations) that were made by Jesus on his way to Calvary.

In addition to the 7 ancient basilicas in Rome, I read from Wikipedia (without reference) about other “sevens” connected with this tradition:

7 Last Words
7 Deacons of the Twelve Apostles
7 Scripture passages of Christ’s arrest and trial
7 First Christian Holy Sites in Israel
7 Holy Wounds (five wounds plus the Scourge marks and His injured left shoulder)

Most evangelicals commemorate the so-called “7 Last Words” on Good Friday, which are based on Scriptures. There were also 7 deacons (Ac 6:1-6). What about the 7 Scripture passages of Christ’s arrest and trial? These are chosen arbitrarily, of course. And I suspect the 7 first Christian “holy” sites in Israel were just made up by entrepreneurs.

As for the “7 Holy Wounds,” maybe someone will come up with “7 Holy Nails” or “7 Holy Thorns.” Or even “7 Holy Portions of Jesus’ Garments” (oops! This will not work, there were only 4 portions.)

The pietistic purpose is to help devout Catholics meditate upon the suffering and death of Christ. But the New Testament commands only one holy commemoration of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins: the Lord’s Supper. And this is the only “Holy” commemoration, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Co 10:16). No holy cathedral, holy land, holy sites, holy wounds.

But there is a holy people, a holy nation: those chosen in Christ (1 Pt 2:9-10), called saints (Eph 1:1) from all walks of life (Gal 3:28) in all nations (Rv 7:9). And how do they become holy? By being united to Christ (Rm 6:5-11) by God’s grace alone (Eph 1:7) through faith alone (Gal 3:11) in Christ alone (1 Ti 2:5), according to the Holy Bible alone (2 Ti 3:16).

They are counted righteous by God not because of their own works of penance, but on account of Christ’s perfect righteousness (Rm 4:3) all the way to his finished (Jn 17:4; 19:30), once-for-all work on the cross (Hb 9:12; 10:10) to save his people from all their sins—past, present and future (Hb 10:14).

No need for penance, indulgence, relics and pilgrimages to be acceptable to God. Not even Visita Iglesia.


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