In the heart of the Eucharistic mystery: Missa in Coena Domini in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

In the heart of the Eucharistic mystery: Missa in Coena Domini in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, 5 April, 2012

With the Missa in Coena Domini celebrated on Holy Thursday morning just in front of the Aedicule of the Lord's Tomb in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, the Paschal Triduum opens in Jerusalem, filled with moving moments in the very places that saw the Lord suffering, humiliated and alone; that received the gift of his body and his blood: first in the Eucharist, instituted during the Last Supper with his disciples, and then on the cross, a sacrifice offered for the salvation of the whole world, and which also saw the miraculous event of his resurrection, when Christ made all things forever new.

The principal celebrant was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Bishop Fouad Twal, accompanied on this solemn occasion by His Excellency Bishop William Shomali and His Excellency Bishop Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the local Latin Patriarchate, and His Excellency Bishop Giacinto Boulos Marcuzzo, Auxiliary Bishop of Nazareth. Even though the Basilica was filled with many of the faithful, Christians of the local community and pilgrims from different countries, there was a very large number of priests con celebrating, over 200, representing the true center of interest of this evocative celebration, which commemorates in a special way the moment in which Jesus instituted the Eucharist, consecrating the bread and wine of the Last Supper, and asked the apostles to perpetuate the memory of this act and this gift through the priesthood. Also participating in the solemn celebration was the Apostolic Nuncio in Israel, His Excellency Bishop Antonio Franco, and the Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan, His Excellency Bishop Giorgio Lingua, with their secretaries.

During the Holy Mass, the Patriarch also repeated the washing of the feet, Jesus’ simple yet intense gesture for the apostles in their last time together before his arrest. Afterwards, His Beatitude Msg. Twal blessed the holy oils, for the sick and for the catechumens, and consecrated the chrism.

The celebration ended with a long procession with all the con celebrants in a one single-file line, accompanying the Most Blessed Sacrament on three solemn passes around the Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre, together with the kawas and to the sound of Gregorian chant. Wearing white vestments and holding countless lit candles, the priests all commemorated their own priestly ordinations, a precious gift to all humanity, and the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist and consecrating the bread and wine. At the end of the procession, which engaged the entire assembly in intense prayer for almost an hour, the pix containing the consecrated hosts was placed in the Aedicule of the Lord's Tomb, where it would remain throughout the night.

With such acts, so intimate and simple, as the institution of the Eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet, which was reenacted before the participatory gaze of the faithful, the love and humility of God is made concrete, tangible, close to the experience and emotions of mankind. The Lord took care of each person, humbly cleansing our fault, continuously renewing this gift, and coming into the heart of every Christian.

Once the liturgy, which had taken most of the morning, was completed, the doors to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre were closed. Over the coming hours, they would be opened only for brief moments, allowing the entrance of Franciscans, clergy of the Latin Patriarchate and a few other faithful to participate in the afternoon celebrations: Adoration of Most Blessed Sacrament, the Office of Darkness, and Vespers. For the rest, the doors of the Basilica remain closed.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Andres Bergamini