This year, the celebrations that accompanied the solemnity of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus at Gethsemane began with the opening of the jubilee of the centenary of the building of the Basilica of the Nations. This place of worship stands on the slope of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and is the place that evokes the agony and arrest of Jesus before his Passion.
Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Hoy Land, presided the solemn mass on the morning of Saturday 1 July in the presence of the friars and very many local faithful and pilgrims.
The ritual entrance in a procession into the basilica this year made an unusual stop outside the main door, which remained closed throughout the opening speech of the jubilee of the Centenary, pronounced by Fr. Patton; he recalled the words of the architect Antonio Barluzzi, who was assigned the project of building the present-day basilica: "the basilica of Gethsemane will be the temple of the whole of Christianity and the only shrine which represents the offering to God of the religious soul of the 20th century.”
This church is effectively called “of the Nations” in virtue of this claim of universality that its architect wanted and also because many nations of the time contributed to its construction with donations. The other name by which the Basilica of Gethsemane is known is “of the Agony," in clear reference to the events that took place here: Christ keeping vigil in prayer before he was arrested and sweating blood due to anguish. The ritual scattering of red rose petals on the stone placed in front of the altar of the basilica during the celebration of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus intends to commemorate that event.
Once the doors were opened, the procession entered the church to the notes of the hymn Vexilla Regis, which alludes to the cross on which Christ shed the blood that redeemed the world.
The celebration of the day is dedicated precisely to the blood of the Lord. It is a celebration that can be understood only if first the importance that blood has for man and for his life every day, is understood. In his homily the Father Custos insisted that blood is indispensable to remain alive and on the fact that Christ, becoming a man, took “flesh and blood” from us. After this he wanted us to take from him and share with him the Holy Spirit and eternal life. We receive these last two gifts in a very special form in the Eucharist. In it, it is possible to always see a direct link with the blood shed by Jesus: blood indicates belonging to the same family, and therefore consanguinity. In this sense, the blood of Christ is for us very precious because it establishes this bond of consanguinity between God and ourselves through the new covenant. When the words of Jesus are recited over the cup at the time of consecration: "This is the cup of my blood […] poured out for you and for everyone in remission of sins," it is also to recall that his blood purifies ours, because it is the only one capable of healing a person and the life of each one of us. It does so, the Custos continued, “purifying us from our sins and reconciling us with God and amongst ourselves.”
The special occasion of the jubilee of the centenary of the Gethsemane, which coincides with that of the Basilica of Mount Tabor, convinced the Custody of the Holy Land to ask the Apostolic Pentinentiary to once again grant indulgences for the pilgrims who visit the shrines of the Holy Land. At the end of the Mass, Fr. Patton announced that the request has been accepted and therefore exhorted the faithful to have the experience of the plenary indulgence fulfilling the requirements of the Church or, if they intend to do so at Gethsemane, through taking part in the Holy Hour or the celebration of the Eucharist during the pilgrimage.
In addition, in memory of the Centenary, the Custos lit a commemorative lamp in the basilica which will burn throughout the year.
Filippo De Grazia