The mother of all vigils, namely that of the resurrection of the Lord was celebrated on the morning of Saturday 8th April in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Holy Sepulchre itself, the heart of Christianity, is historic and archaeological evidence of the Paschal Mystery, i.e. the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was here, from the place where one dawn 2,000 years ago that tomb remained empty, that the announcement of the great Hallelujah was given, which frees the bells and makes them ring again to give humanity this message of life, of resurrection and hope: Christ truly defeated death!
Jerusalem is the first city in the world to experience Easter, celebrating the mass of the vigil on the Saturday morning (instead of in the evening) due to requirements linked to the Status quo, which regulates the life of the different Christian communities at the Holy Sepulchre.
This solemn mass of the vigil was presided by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons. Pierbattista Pizzaballa and attended by a large number of faithful, who joyfully went to the Basilica from the earliest hours of the day. Numerous priests concelebrated with His Beatitude Pizzaballa, including seven bishops.
The celebration of the vigil was divided into four parts: the liturgy of the light, characterized by the rite of the Lucernarium, where the Paschal candle is lit, symbolizing the light of Christ risen in glory: the liturgy of the Word, consisting of nine readings which go over “the story of a long promise of life,” and which culminate in the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew which relates the episode of the women finding the tomb empty (Matthew 28, 1-10); the baptismal liturgy, when the baptismal promises are renewed through renouncing Satan and the profession of the faith; the Eucharistic liturgy, where the faithful, who have just been regenerated in baptism, take part in the table prepared by the Lord himself through his death and resurrection.
The peculiarity of this celebration is the proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The bishop of the Holy City makes the announcement to the world of the good news through readings of the Gospel.
In his homily, which he gave in front of the empty tomb, in which for the occasion the altar of the Mass had been prepared, Mons. Pizzaballa exhorted: “our Church, the Church of Jerusalem which was the first to receive this marvellous announcement, must not look for the Living amongst the dead, amongst those who have lost hope and remain in their tombs.” The invitation is not to give up in the face of adversity, but to believe and follow this promise of life made by Christ with his resurrection. To do so, in everyday life, an about-face is necessary, in the way of the women in the passage from the Gospel: “the Gospel tells us that these women quickly leave the tomb, they do not linger to weep, in sadness, but fearful and overjoyed (Matthew 28, 8) they run to the disciples bringing news of life.”
How can we make such a reversal in our lives? How does this Word speak to us about it? According to the bishop, the gospel of the day comes to our help and in it highlights two elements: the earthquake and the angel.
The earthquake, always linked with major theophanies, is destructive. “On Easter morning, the earthquake destroys, not life, but rather death, and its power.”
The angel rolls away the stone which closed the tomb and sits on it. “Death is defeated. And the angel sits on it. It was a heavy door, a rock that weighed on the hearts of us all.” The angel then reveals to the women that what has happened comes from God, “that what is happening is a new birth.” From here the women, and with them the whole of humanity, can set off again towards life.
In his homily, Mons. Pizzaballa then noted: “the Gospel however also gives a condition, a passage that makes this new birth possible. And the condition is the one that the angel tells the women (Matthew 28, 6). Namely, to remain, without fleeing, in the place of death, on the place of failure, of the impossibility of life. To look on to that void, that empty tomb. It is only from there that the promise can be heard again, only from there can we believe in a new beginning. It is only after having become aware of sin and death that we can have the experience of forgiveness and salvation.”
From the very place where all this materially took place, where death was defeated and Life was given to us, Mons. Pizzaballa concluded, exclaiming, “from this Place, from the empty tomb of Christ, this good news still reaches the whole world: He is not here. He is risen, as he had said!”
Closing the celebration, the Patriarch took leave of those present with the solemn blessing, announcing the Easter of God who, in his Son, renewed the whole of humanity.
Filippo De Grazia