The “mother of all vigils”, the Easter Vigil, celebrated in the Place of the Resurrection, is the privilege that the Church of the Holy Land enjoys every year. In the early hours of Holy Saturday, an assembly made up of local Christians, religious communities and friars from the Custody of the Holy Land gathered together in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre for the Paschal liturgy. The anticipation of the Mass to the morning dates back to the Second Vatican Council and has been kept, for reasons linked to the Status Quo, which regulates the life of the Christian communities of the Holy Sepulchre.
The “service of light” in front of the door of the Basilica started the celebration, and was experienced even more intensely than usual. Due to the emergency for the Coronavirus pandemic, last year the participation of the public in the events of Holy Week was not allowed. It is with joy then, that this year the faithful of Jerusalem took part in the Solemn Mass in the “Church of the Resurrection” as it is known by the locals.
“In these Holy Places of Calvary and the Resurrection, which were witnesses of the death and the resurrection of Our Lord, we pray so that God Our Father can complete this work of salvation which began with Easter,” said Mons. Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who presided the celebration.
During the Liturgy of the Word, seven readings and seven psalms of the Old Testament told of the marvels that the Lord did for his people. Then the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land who look after the Holy Sepulchre, rang the bells for the moment of the “Gloria”. After St Paul’s Letter, the time for the Gospel of the announcement of Easter came, proclaimed in front of the entrance to the empty tomb, according to an ancient tradition linked to the Place.
During the celebration, the renewal of the baptismal vows was also repeated, before the aspersion with holy water with the immersion of the Pascal Candle.
In his homily the Latin Patriarch said that the thread running through the readings of the day is the fidelity of God to His promise and he then reflected on three verbs of the Gospel: to buy, to see and to go. When the women go to the Tomb, they get the oils for a worthy burial of Christ the day before. “We are invited today to learn from these women to live at a loss,” said Mons. Pizzaballa, “to really spend our lives for the love of Christ, looking at the cross like the measurement of that love which redeemed us and at this empty tomb as the announcement of eternal life for us all.”
According to the Latin Patriarch, we also all need a sign to see and a word to listen to, yet it is not possible to explain the resurrection, but it can only “be experienced”, thanks to reliable witnesses: “The first witness is the Church, the place where Christ Risen speaks to us, through the Sacraments and the announcement of the Word. Today the Gospel invites us to be a courageous Church, which does not fear solitude and incomprehension, which every day meets Christ Risen and shows it serenely to the world with a clear and confident word, with a free, determined and passionate testimony.”
To see and bear witness to Christ Risen, however, the first thing that has to be done is to move: the women went to the Sepulchre, where they saw the empty tomb and the angel. This way, “we do not meet Christ Risen if we do not go to the Tomb and we remain shut up in our own cenacles.” “If there is a testimony today that is more necessary than ever, it is precisely that of hope. The signs of fear show themselves on their own, but they must not stop our charity,” the Latin Patriarch added. “May our Church of the Holy Land have the experience of Christ Risen again today,” concluded Mons. Pizzaballa, “live in His light, rejoice for His presence, be fed on His love, and continue to spend itself for the life of the world!”