In the Places of the Lord's Passion: Solemn celebration of Holy Wednesday in Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

In the Places of the Lord's Passion: Solemn celebration of Holy Wednesday in Jerusalem

4 April, 2012

Having arrived at Wednesday of Holy Week, Jerusalem is now completely immersed in the rites of these solemn days, soon to celebrate the most holy and sorrowful Triduum before the immense joy of the Pascha of the Resurrection of the Lord. The city is trembling with anticipation, preparing to relive the grand events. Alongside the local Christian community, a daily ever-increasing number of pilgrims from different parts of the world ceaselessly stream to the Holy Places, stopping and praying in the places so dear to Christian tradition, surprised and grateful to be here where the events of our salvation become present and tangible, able to reverently touch the land and the stones that continue to testify to the history of human redemption that, more two thousand years ago, captivated it.

Holy Wednesday is filled with devotion for these unique places that they have the grace to touch, caress, kiss, savor in their hearts and meditate on the mysteries they retell. This profound experience is accomplished at the end of the morning, with the Solemn Mass celebrated in the Basilica of the Agony at Gethsemane, during the course of which the gospel of the Lord's Passion is once again chanted, this time according to the gospel of Saint Luke (Lk 22:14-23, 56). At the words recalling how the Lord retired to this ancient olive garden to pray, sweating blood, the lector bows to kiss the stone set in the base of the altar, where Jesus suffered in solitude, in profound agony, knowing the bitter ordeal that awaited him. In the presence of a very large number of the faithful, the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores was the celebrant of the solemn ceremony, as established by the liturgical program, surrounded by concelebrants all around the altar, just a few steps from the rock of the Agony, the center of devotion and piety of all.

At the end of the celebration, the Franciscan friars of the Custody went in procession from Gethsemane to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where at 10:00 a.m. the veneration of the Column of the Flagellation, near the chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the Risen Jesus to the Virgin Mary) took place. The fragment of red porphyry column encircled with an immaculate white drape is saluted as the Columna nobilis in the hymn that begins the prayer, and is kissed by all the friars, beginning with the Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores and the Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre, Brother Fergus Clarke. Thereafter and throughout the day, they were followed by the faithful and pilgrims who also wanted to express in this way their profound veneration for this precious object, which tradition recognizes as the column to which Jesus was tied to be scourged. In the first centuries of the Christian era, it was exposed to the faithful on Good Friday in the Cenacle. Then, in the 14th century, the column was transported to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, to its present position. Until not long ago, people of faith were able to admire and venerate the column of the flagellation only on Holy Wednesday; today it is always exposed in the Chapel of the Apparition to the right of the altar, and millions of Christians continue to visit and pay homage, lightly touching or kissing it throughout the year.

In the afternoon, the Franciscan community met and solemnly conducted His Excellency Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem into the Holy Sepulchre, where he celebrated the four o'clock Office. In front of the Aedicule of the Lord's Tomb, completely surrounded by the faithful and pilgrims, the recitation of psalms and the biblical reading prepared and introduced the Easter Triduum, a liturgy of suffering and struggle that celebrates the most dramatic moments of Jesus' life up to his death on the cross and the entombment of his body in the Sepulchre. During the Office, the fifteen candles of the large triangular candelabra to the side of the Sepulchre, filled with symbolic and mystical meaning, were lit. The fourteen candles on its sides represent the eleven apostles and the three Marys, whose faith would be sorely tired during the days of the Lord's Passion. The candle at its apex, on the other hand, symbolizes Christ, whose divine nature is not hidden, not even by the shameful death to which he was subjected.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Stefano Dal Pozzolo