6 Things You May Not Have Considered About Making a Catholic Pilgrimage
Written by catholicradio on September 19, 2023
Catholic pilgrimage. Upon hearing those words, an immediate response may be to imagine a lengthy and expensive trip across the ocean to tour a holy place or shrine. While that is a possibility, the concept of pilgrimage cannot be limited to material concerns like travel and cost.
Here are seven things you may not have considered about making a Catholic pilgrimage:
A Catholic Pilgrimage Is Foremost About A Spiritual Journey
Throughout history, the faithful have gone on pilgrimage for several reasons. For some, pilgrimage is a ritual or obligation. Others may journey as an act of devotion or fidelity to God, or to atone for their sins. And still others may make a pilgrimage as an act of faith to ask God for a special grace, cure, or miracle.
The word “pilgrim” has a few meanings to Americans. However, in the context of faith, it is derived from the Latin “peregrinum”, which indicates a particular type of wandering over a distance. But this is not without aim or purpose, it is a spiritual journey to connect with and honor God.
Pilgrimages Are Rooted In Sacred Scripture
Considering Jewish history, we see stories in the Bible in the 1000 years before Christ’s birth of God’s chosen people traveling to Jerusalem. When the temple was built there, all Jewish men were required to present themselves there for three feasts, also called “Pilgrimage Festivals”:
- The Feast of Unleavened Bread (Pesach)
- The Feast of Weeks, or Pentecost (Shavu’ot)
- The Feast of Tabernacles, or Festival of Ingathering (Sukkot)
Pilgrimages Are Also Rooted in Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Faith
As Christianity spread after the death and resurrection of Our Lord, new believers were inspired to literally follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the 12 Apostles.
One of the earliest references to pilgrimages is found in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He described a pilgrim as someone on a spiritual journey, exiled by choice from the world, who searched for God’s truth.
Making A Catholic Pilgrimage To A Church Or Altar On the Day Of Its Dedication Is An Opportunity For Spiritual Blessings
When someone makes a spiritual pilgrimage, it is usually accompanied by spiritual preparation such as prayer and fasting. While this may in itself dispose the soul to receive God’s grace, the Catholic Church teaches that indulgences may also be granted.
Although at times in human history the spiritual blessings of indulgences have been misunderstood, and sometimes used for personal gain, that was not the original intention. The Catholic church has not changed her teaching on indulgences and a partial or plenary indulgence may be gained if proper conditions are met.
On A Pilgrimage, You Are Invited To Visit Holy Places and Holy Relics Of Our Catholic Faith
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar
the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the
witness they bore to the word of God.
– Rev 6:9
As mentioned above, journeying to a church or altar is an opportunity for spiritual blessings. Every altar in a Catholic church contains at least one relic of a Catholic saint, oftentimes a martyr.
When following Christ was illegal under the Roman Empire, the faithful gathered underground in the catacombs. There they celebrated Holy Mass on stone slabs covering the tombs of martyrs, calling to mind the ultimate sacrifice.
After Constantine legalized Christianity, Mass no longer needed to be celebrated underground and churches were built over the remains of martyrs. If that was not possible, a first class relic was placed within the altar and covered by a square of stone. You may notice this area when the altar is bare during Holy Triduum before Easter Sunday.
Vatican II affirmed this pious practice. Today when the priest kisses the altar when celebrating the Holy Mass, this demonstrates reverence for Jesus, the sacrificial lamb offered for us. It also acknowledges the sacrifice of the martyrs with whom we celebrate Mass as the communion of saints.
Making A Pilgrimage Connects You With Jesus, the Saints, and A Community of the Faithful
There are several ways to make a pilgrimage. For those who are able to travel to the Holy Land, there is connection to the life of Jesus, where He walked and taught, and where He died and rose. The Paschal Mystery comes alive in a tangible way.
El Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James is comprised of many pilgrimage routes beginning throughout Europe that lead to the tomb of St. James in Spain. The story of El Camino can be traced back to the 9th century. A unique aspect to this particular pilgrimage is that it is walked.
For those who are not able to journey that distance, there is an option on the evening of Holy Thursday, after the celebration of the Holy Mass, to participate in a Seven Churches Visitation. Each “station” or altar is an opportunity to keep watch with Jesus during the events leading up to His Passion. Today, this can be done locally or even virtually online.
In addition, pilgrimages can be made to local churches (as mentioned above) and shrines which are present across the United States and the world. If you are not able to travel to Fatima in Portugal, you may consider shrines in New York or New Jersey. If Lourdes, France is not possible, there are grottos in Indiana and Missouri.
Is the Holy Spirit Calling You To Make A Pilgrimage?
In the Gospel, Jesus seems always to be travelling about. He seems to be in a hurry to move from one place to another in order to proclaim the imminent coming of God’s Kingdom. He proclaims and he calls. His “Follow me” prompted the Apostles’ ready response (cf. Mk 1:16-20). Let us all feel touched by his voice, his call, his summons to a new life.
CONCERNING PILGRIMAGE TO THE PLACES LINKED TO THE HISTORY OF SALVATION
God communicates with each of us in many ways. You can hear His call to you today on Catholic radio which teaches, inspires, and exhorts each of us to follow in the steps Our Lord Jesus Christ. May our broadcast of the Holy Mass and daily prayers inspire you in your life as a pilgrim. You can listen online, find your local station, or download our free app for Apple and Android.