On Thursday 6th April, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, opened the solemn liturgies of the Paschal Triduum, with the celebration of the Missa in Coena Domini.
The ceremony in the morning is only the first of the several which, until nightfall, punctuate Holy Thursday in Jerusalem, where the facts narrated by the Gospels took place two thousand years ago.
This celebration which, according to the rules of the Status quo, is brought forward to the morning, commemorates first of all the institution of the Eucharist, of the ministerial priesthood and of washing the feet, the gesture with which Christ indicated to his disciples the total generosity in giving the self. Repeating Jesus’ gesture, Mons. Pizzaballa washed the feet of six seminarians of the Latin Patriarchate and of six Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land.
Due to the solemnity and the importance of the feast-day, there is a great participation by priests who, during the celebration, renew their priestly vows ‒ not only privately but publicly: in the Basilica there were more than 200 priests of all nationalities, as well as very many pilgrims and faithful from all over the world.
In addition, according to the liturgy of the day at the Holy Sepulchre, the Chrism Mass was also held, during which the holy oils, that during the year will be used for the sick, the catechumens and the priests, were blessed.
In his intense homily, the Patriarch wanted to focus the reflection, addressed above all to the priests present, on the verse in the Gospel according to John: “he rose from supper, took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.” (John 13,4).
“There are seven verbs in this verse: the verbs of true love are the verbs of Easter which Christ uses to recreate man, taking him outside his night and his sin. Rise, without remaining seated in resignation and paralysed by despondency, and take off the clothes of one’s proud right and individual privilege. “Tie on” the other’s life, taking it as your own, and pour out one’s life, collecting it in your hands, without wasting it in sterile recriminations and nostalgia, endeavouring to focus only on Christ and on the Gospel. Wash the feet of your brothers. accepting their limits and without drawing back from the effort of relations. We know this effort, here in the Holy Land and in Jerusalem, well and then “dry” them: drying, not only their feet, but their tears, rehabilitating and reinforcing what is weak without leaving anyone behind.”
“True love,” the Patriarch continued, “is what comes from God and what leads to God, the one that has its essence in the gift of the self to the end, has the power to transform darkness into light, betrayals into forgiveness, abandons into returns, and death into new life.
The liturgy came to an end with a solemn procession to put the Most Blessed Sacrament back in its place: three times around the Edicule (the Stone of Unction is included in the third time round, passing in front of Calvary) before entering the Empty Tomb, where the Most Blessed Sacrament was placed in the tabernacle, on the Lord’s Tomb. Here the friars of the Custody and some faithful guarantee, on behalf of the whole Church, the adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament all day and all night, keeping vigil with Jesus at the time of Gethsemane.
The liturgy continues in the afternoon in the room of the Cenacle, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, with the Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton and the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, and in the evening the prayer of the Holy Hour of Jesus at Gethsemane is celebrated, during which there is a meditation on three episodes: the prediction of Christ about Peter’s denial and the flight of the disciples, Christ’s Agony in the garden and, lastly, his arrest.