Scientia Crucis : The Way of the Cross and Funeral Procession of Good Friday in Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Scientia Crucis : The Way of the Cross and Funeral Procession of Good Friday in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, 6 April, 2012

There are groups of every language and culture that, with songs and prayer, made the Way of the Cross through the roads of the Old City of Jerusalem on Good Friday morning, following the route of the Via Dolorosa that, from the Lithostrotos near the Franciscan convent of the Flagellation, continues through the complicated alleys of the inhabited areas to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Each group carries its own cross, sometimes very large ones, and with devotion and particular enthusiasm follows the route, crossing the threshold of the Basilica, stopping at Calvary and then ending before the empty Tomb, already anxiously anticipating the announcement of the resurrection of the Lord which will be proclaimed with great joy on Easter morning. There were also Christian Arabs from the Latin parish of Saint Saviour's who walked the Way of the Cross on this Good Friday, accompanying their parish priests, Brother Simon Herro and Brother Feras Hejazin, and numerous young people who together carried the large cross through the fourteen stations, the first nine traditionally identified along the Via Dolorosa and the last five inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the end of the celebration of the Lord's Passion, which took place in the first part of the morning at Calvary, the Franciscan community of the Holy Land, led by the Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, solemnly followed the Way of the Cross, with the participation of a large number of pilgrims along with the friars. This is an evocative ritual that the Franciscans repeat every Friday of the year, always with a large number of pilgrims accompanying them. Setting out from the first station, today located in the courtyard of the Muslim el-Omariye School in front of the Convent of the Flagellation where the Antonia Fortress stood in ancient times and to which Pilate's Pretorium extended, they continued along the various small chapels that correspond to the traditional stations of the Way of the Cross. Finally, the long procession reaches the Holy Sepulchre, visits Calvary, first the Latin part and then the Greek-Orthodox part, pauses next to the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows, where the body of Jesus was laid after being removed from the cross, and then concludes before the Aedicule of the Lord's Tomb. Meanwhile, the Basilica fairly trembles with pilgrims whose voice and prayers blend, superimposed one on the other, like their feelings, their hopes, their unease before the enormity of the Pascal mystery that, above all in this holy place, enraptures everyone and in which everyone wants to participate.

Two other occasions during Good Friday saw the Franciscans of the Custody turn once again to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: in the afternoon at 4:00 p.m. to pray the Office together, and in the evening a little after 8:00 p.m. for the procession of the Funeral of Christ.

Above all, it is this last evening celebration that is perhaps the most touching moment of the long day of Good Friday. The Basilica is again animated by numerous Franciscan friars and many other religious concelebrants, as well as the many faithful who did not want to miss being close to the Lord all along his path of suffering and death. Presiding over the solemn procession that recalls ancient popular tradition, were again the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista, and the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores. While the Custodial Secretary, Brother Silvio De La Fuente, carried the Crucifix in his hands, the procession, to the sound of sorrowful songs, stopped before the various chapels of the Basilica, continuing to Calvary. In the meantime, through the readings in various languages of passages from the four gospels that recall the suffering Christ endured in the last days of his life, from the unction at Bethany a little before the Passover celebrated in Jerusalem with the disciples to his death on the cross at Golgotha. At this point begins the ceremony of removing the body of Jesus from the cross, with two deacons who, with profound devotion and reverence, first remove the crown of thorns from Jesus' head, and the nails that pierced his hands and feet. Placed on a white sheet, in an atmosphere of deep participation in which it seemed as though we were really reliving the dramatic moments that actually happened two thousand years ago, Christ is carried to the Stone of Unction and laid there. The Custos then sprinkled the body of the Lord with oils and perfumes, repeating the gospel event in which Joseph of Arimatea and Nicodemus prepared Jesus for burial in accordance with Jewish custom. Finally the procession reaches the Aedicule of the Tomb, where the last passage of the Gospel of Saint John is read, narrating the burial of Jesus and discovery of the empty tomb on the first day after the sabbath by Mary Magdalene. Here, then, the entombment of the Lord is symbolically completed.

A simple, emotional ceremony made up of intense, delicate gestures that may have given a little relieve, after so much suffering, to the martyred body of Christ, but also to the hearts of those who performed it and who intimately participated in it. Now begins the great waiting, ever increasing the desire to reopen a story that, exactly here, with these acts of piety and communion, seems to have ended. At the end of the ceremony, everyone was moved and already starting to prepare their hearts for the greatest joy.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos of the Franciscans' Way of the Cross by Stefano Dal Pozzolo
Photos of the Parish Way of the Cross by Marie-Armelle Beaulieu
Photos of the Funeral Procession by Stefano Dal Pozzolo