Nocturnal vigil and solemn Holy Mass of the First Sunday of Lent in Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Nocturnal vigil and solemn Holy Mass of the First Sunday of Lent in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, 26th February 2012

On the evening of the first Saturday of Lent, the community of the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land meets at St. Saviour’s Convent and from there goes to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where, as tradition has it, there is the nocturnal vigil from 11.30 p.m.. The liturgy of the vigil was presided by the Custody, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and specifically commemorates the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus, which took place on exactly this spot. Together with the large number of friars, there were also many religious of the Holy Land, as well as some faithful of the local Christian community and some pilgrims who wanted to share in this moving moment of prayer.

According to tradition, the vigil was celebrated in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of Jesus to His Mother, and began with the procession of the ministers who carry the Gospels, accompanied by incense and candles. The book of the Gospels was solemnly placed on the altar. After the Invitatory, which introduces listening to the Word and lauds, and the Lenten hymn, the psalms are recited. The psalmody was followed by the Office of the Readings and the canticles of the Old Testament. The vigil then continued with the typical part of the Jerusalem liturgy, namely the Memory of the Resurrection, with a procession which, starting from the Chapel of the Apparition, reached the Tomb of the Lord. Whilst the Custos solemnly carried the Gospels and the deacons the incense, all the members of the assembly received a lit candle, the symbol of the light of the new life of Christ Risen. The procession went round the aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre, singing the Benedictus, with an interval of the antiphon with a double hallelujah and organ accompaniment. The Custos then entered the Sepulchre, carrying the book of Gospels with him and laying it on the Tomb during the moment of prayer he spent there. When he came out of the Sepulchre, Brother Pizzaballa blessed the faithful, raising the Gospel.

At the end of this rite, the community returned to the Chapel of the Apparition, where the Custos proclaimed the Gospel of the resurrection according to St. Matthew. This was followed by the Commemoratio omnium and the solemn acclamation of the Lord Risen, to which the assembly replied with the Kyrie eleison. The vigil came to an end with the prayer and final blessing.

Lastly, the Father Custos presided a Holy Mass at the Calvary, thus making the awareness of the great mysteries which Lent introduces even more intense. A large group of friars and faithful wanted to take part in this Eucharistic liturgy.

The next morning, the first Sunday in Lent, whilst all the other Jerusalem Christian confessions were in turn engaged in their respective celebrations, according to the Latin liturgical tradition, at 8.30 a.m. there is a sung and solemnly concelebrated Holy Mass, preceded by the prayer of Lauds, at the altar dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. H. E. Mons. Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Jerusalem, attended the ceremony, following a centuries-old programme, which established that the Latin Patriarch of the Holy City or a person delegated by him is present at the Sunday celebration. Mons. Batish entered the Basilica accompanied by the community of Franciscan friars, who had gone in procession from St. Saviour’s Convent to the nearby Patriarchal See, near the Jaffa Gate, to lead him the Bishop and his entourage in procession to the church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Holy Mass was presided by Brother Noel Muscat, Discreet of the Holy Land.

Around the altar of St. Mary Magdalene, which is not far from the aedicule of the Tomb, there were many concelebrant priests, the large Franciscan community, with Brother Fergus Clarke, the guardian of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and Brother Stephane Milovitch, guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, numerous representatives of the local clergy and the local Christian community, the many pilgrims, who already throng the Shrine from the morning and, on this particular Sunday, gathered to take part in the Eucharistic celebration. The homily was given, from the pulpit near the altar, by Brother Feras Hejazin, the parish priest of Jerusalem.

Just after the Holy Mass, Mons. Batish left the Basilica, once again accompanied in procession by the Franciscans, thus completing his visit.

We are all called to take our place amidst those who celebrate the liturgy at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, taking part in this invaluable service of thanks and praise to God that the Franciscans have untiringly been continuing for eight hundred years. Lent contains a special invitation, it calls every Christian to be closer to this Holy Place which is the heart of Jerusalem and of Christianity, and to bear witness with joy that Christ has truly risen for all of us.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Brother Jerzy Kraj