Jesus sets out for Jerusalem: Bethphage and the Holy Sepulchre on the Vigil of Palm Sunday | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Jesus sets out for Jerusalem: Bethphage and the Holy Sepulchre on the Vigil of Palm Sunday

31 March 2012

The morning of the Saturday before Palm Sunday that opens Holy Week started in Bethphage at 9:00 with celebration of the Solemn Mass preceded by Morning Prayer, closing the cycle of Lenten pilgrimages with the commemoration of the Lord's entry into Jerusalem to the exultation of the disciples and the cheers of the crowd. The little Bethphage sanctuary, built in 1883 and restored to its present form in 1954, stands on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives on the ancient road that leads to the village from Bethany. In this spot Jesus' meeting with Martha and Mary before the resurrection of their brother Lazarus and the messianic entry of Jesus into the Holy City are commemorated. A beautiful fresco of Jesus on the donkey that carried him, surrounded by the cheering crowd, to Jerusalem is above the altar. A short distance away stands the stone on which, according to tradition, Jesus placed his foot so as to climb onto the animal's back. Holy Mass was celebrated by Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar, with Brother Frantiszek Wiater, guardian of the Bethphage Sanctuary, and Brother Stephane Milovitch, guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, concelebrating. Taking part in the celebration were many Franciscans and priests from the local clergy, as well as a good number of the faithful: Holy Land Christians, friends, and Custody coworkers. After the celebration, everyone was invited to a pleasant and convivial moment in to the courtyard of the Franciscan convent.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “If Jesus, with the pilgrim Israel, goes up to Jerusalem, he goes there to celebrate with Israel the Passover: the memorial of Israel's liberation a memorial which, at the same time, is always a hope of definitive freedom, which God will give. And Jesus approaches this feast in the awareness that he himself is the Lamb [...] And lastly, Jesus knows that his way goes further: the Cross will not be his end. He knows that his journey will rend the veil between this world and God's world; that he will ascend to the throne of God and reconcile God and man in his Body He knows that his Risen Body will be the new sacrifice and the new Temple; that around him, from the hosts of Angels and Saints the new Jerusalem will be formed, that is in Heaven and yet also on the earth, because by his Passion he was to open the frontier between Heaven and earth. His way leads beyond the summit of the Mountain of the Temple to the heights of God himself: this is the great ascent to which he calls us all. He always remains with us on earth and he has always already arrived with God. He guides us on earth and beyond the earth."

In the afternoon the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre once again saw the weekly event in which the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land and the authorities of the local Latin Patriarchate share leading roles.

In the early afternoon, His Excellency Bishop Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, accompanied by Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar, Brother Silvio De La Fuente, Custodial Secretary, and a large number of members of the Franciscan community in procession, once again made a solemn entry into the Basilica, received, as usual, by Brother Fergus Clarke, guardian of the Holy Sepulchre. Having venerated the Stone of Unction, where Jesus' body was prepared for burial, and the Lord's empty tomb, Bishop Twal solemnly led the daily procession to organ accompaniment through the packed church, with all participants holding lit candles. Leaving the Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the Resurrected Jesus to Mary His Mother), the procession made its way along the fourteen stations that make up the spiritual itinerary inside the Basilica, underlining each stop with a time of song, prayer, and meditation. Taking part in the liturgy were many male and female religious from various Holy Land congregations, numerous local Arabic-speaking Christians and many pilgrims who wanted to join the evocative celebration. At the end of the ceremony the Franciscans, again in procession, accompanied the Patriarch and his entourage through the roads of the Old City of Jerusalem to the Patriarchal seat near the Jaffa gate.

Late at night, at 12:40 a.m. (11:40 p.m. according to solar time, which is kept in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre) the Franciscan community, together with many members of the local clergy and a good number of the faithful reassembled in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre for the night vigil. The first part of the vigil was held, as is customary, in the Chapel of the Apparition. Then followed the procession in memory of the Lord's Resurrection, circling the Aedicule and solemnly bearing the Gospel Lectionary. The assembly then turned to the Chapel of the Apparition, where the vigil continued with the reading of the Gospel, the solemn declaration that the Lord has risen, and the concluding rites. Celebration of the first Holy Mass at Calvary followed.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos of Bethphage by Bro. Giorgio Vigna
Photos of the solemn procession by Stefano Dal Pozzolo
Photos of the Vigil by Bro. Giorgio Vigna