"Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord": Palm Sunday in Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

"Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord": Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

1 April, 2012

The Feast of Palm Sunday in Jerusalem commenced early in the morning at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre; the Latin Christian community, with the Franciscan family of the Custody, countless priests and male and female religious of the various Holy Land congregations, local faithful and numerous pilgrims filling the spaces of the Sanctuary, interested and eager to join the procession and the solemn celebration.

At 7:45, the Franciscan friars left the convent of San Salvatore for the nearby patriarchal seat, and in procession accompanied the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Excellency Bishop Fouad Twal to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. They were joined in the courtyard, on this special occasion, by a large representation of Knights and Dames of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Making his solemn entry into the Basilica, Bishop Twal took his place in front of the Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre and, following custom, distributed palms to all the concelebrant priests, the friars, the altar servers, the seminarians, and to some of the faithful. It was moving to see the long procession, accompanied by song and prayer, circle the Empty Tomb of the Lord with the slender, trembling palms, in the opening ceremony of this feast day morning.

The Patriarch then celebrated Solemn Mass in front of the Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre, surrounded by a host of concelebrants and the community of the faithful, visibly filled with faith and emotion. Also present at the ceremony was the Consul General of Spain to Jerusalem, Alfonso Portabales. Superimposed on the Gregorian chant of the Latin liturgy and blending with it were the songs and psalmodies of the Copts and Syrians, also called to praise God in the same Basilica, just a few meters away. In a climate of communion and recollection, therefore, Jesus' messianic entry to Jerusalem that began the days of his Passion was commemorated and relived in the solemn reading of the gospel. At the end of the celebration, around 11:00, the Franciscan friars once again accompanied the Patriarch and his entourage out of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, again passing in procession through the narrow roads of the Old City to the patriarchal seat.

Then the Franciscan community, led by the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, repaired to the Bethphage Sanctuary on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives for lunch and to welcome the faithful and the pilgrims who had come to the little village to take part in the afternoon’s solemn procession. Also present was the group of Knights of the Sovereign Order of Malta who that morning had participated in the solemn celebration in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. An extremely large number of Christians from the many parishes of Israel and the Palestinians Territory were also present. In all, over 6000 people came to take part in this important occasion.

A little after 2:30 p.m. the Latin Patriarch, Bishop Fouad Twal, joined them at Bethphage. Together with him and the Custos of the Holy Land, also taking part in the procession were His Excellency Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, His Excellency Bishop Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Jerusalem, and His Excellency Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Auxiliary Bishop of Nazareth. After an initial prayer in common, the procession set off with songs and dances in different languages, colorful flags and banners of local scout troops, palm fronds and olive branches held festively aloft. Religious and civil authorities closed the procession. A day of celebration and authentic communion, when everyone was able, with simplicity and joy, to express his own faith in the Lord who is coming, retracing more or less the very route that Jesus took two thousand years ago to enter the Holy City, amid the cries of the exultant crowds.

The long procession wound down the side of the Mount of Olives, entering the Old City of Jerusalem through the Lions' Gate and, as usual, slowly reassembled in the court of nearby Saint Anne's Church, with the afternoon already drawing to a close. Here the Patriarch welcomed and thanked the participants, wishing everyone a good Holy Week and imparting the solemn benediction to the faithful. Next followed the traditional parade of the Scouts, who marched and played their instruments along the walls of the city until evening.

This year in particular the Palm Sunday procession was dedicated to the pursuit of conversion of hearts and peace in the Holy Land and the whole world. The words of Pope Benedict XVI are eloquent in this regard: "At the end of the Gospel for the blessing of the palms, we hear the acclamation with which the pilgrims greet Jesus at the Gates of Jerusalem." It takes up the words of Psalm 118 (117), which priests originally proclaimed to pilgrims from the Holy City but which, in the meantime had become an expression of messianic hope: "Blessed is he who enters in the Name of the Lord" (Ps 118[117]: 26; cf. Lk 19: 38). Pilgrims see in Jesus the One who is to come in the Name of the Lord. Indeed, according to St Luke's Gospel they insert one more word: "Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord". And they continue with an acclamation that recalls the message of the Angels at Christmas [...] The Angels spoke of the glory of God in the highest and of peace on earth among men with whom he was pleased. The pilgrims at the entrance to the Holy City say: "Peace on earth and glory be to God in the highest!". They know only too well that there is no peace on earth. And they know that the place of peace is Heaven they know that it is an essential part of Heaven to be a haven of peace. This acclamation is therefore an expression of profound suffering and, at the same time, a prayer of hope; may the One who comes in the Name of the Lord bring to the earth what there is in Heaven. May his kingship become the kingship of God, the presence of Heaven on earth. The Church, before the Eucharistic consecration, sings the words of the Psalm with which Jesus was greeted before his entry into the Holy City: She greets Jesus as the King who, coming from God, comes among us in the Name of God. Today too, this joyous greeting is always a supplication and hope. Let us pray the Lord that he bring to us Heaven, the glory of God and peace among men.”

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Stefano Dal Pozzolo