Malta is known for being a religious country, with churches found practically around every corner, and numerous feasts celebrated all year round. But this becomes especially evident during Holy Week - undoubtedly the most important week in the liturgical calendar - which is celebrated around the island through numerous traditional activities.
Preparations for this important week start as early as Ash Wednesday, which always comes exactly 40 days before Easter Sunday, and immediately following the last day of carnival: after those few days of wild revelry, Ash Wednesday traditionally marked the first day of the penitential period in preparation for Holy Week. Of course, while in the past, fasting on a daily basis was obligatory, rules in this respect have since been relaxed in the Catholic Church, and obligatory fasting is now only limited to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, even though there are still those who voluntarily do it every Wednesday and Friday throughout the whole Lenten period.
Among the numerous other activities organised during this time, including the Lenten sermons held in all parishes on the island, undoubtedly the most significant is the procession dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, held on the Friday before Good Friday. This feast has a special significance for many of the Maltese and attracts thousands of devotees, who recite the rosary while following the statue of the Virgin Mary as it is carried through the streets of their town or village. A couple of days later, Palm Sunday officially marks the start of Holy Week itself, but nowadays, most events tend to commence on Maundy Thursday.
Traditionally, Maundy Thursday - the eve of Good Friday - is when the 'Seven Visits' are held. In every church, after the Mass of the Lord's Supper - which commemorates Jesus Christ's last meal with his Apostles - the consecrated hosts that have been reserved for use on the following day are placed in a tabernacle on the Altar of Repose. The churches are then left open till late so that people can express their devotion in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Throughout the parishes of Malta and Gozo, there are a number of artistic examples of these Altars of Repose, which are always beautifully decorated for the occasion. The tradition is that one would visit seven of these altars in seven different churches to pray at each, and it is possible to do this until the start of the 3 pm service on Good Friday.