"Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, heavenly hosts”: Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

"Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, heavenly hosts”: Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, 7 April, 2012

The traditional Easter Vigil, through which Christians in all parts of the world penetrate the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord, entering into the joy of his glorious life, is celebrated in the early morning of Holy Saturday in Jerusalem. This vigil, which the Church considers "the mother of all holy vigils”, is usually held at night, but here it is brought forward to the morning hours for reasons of local necessity according to the provisions of the status quo. The celebration takes place in the same place as the Anastasis, before the Aedicule of the Empty Tomb, discovered Easter morning by Mary Magdalene, and proclaims the gospel of the Lord who rose gloriously from the dead.

The faithful of every origin, many of whom have been accompanying Jesus in the most painful moments of his Passion celebrated throughout Holy Week, have crowded the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre since early in the morning, happy to finally be able to sing joyous hymns to the Risen Lord. The principal celebrant was the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Mgr. Fouad Twal, who celebrated together with His Excellency Mgr. William Shomali, His Excellency Mgr. Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the local Latin Patriarchate and many Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land.

On this important occasion, too, the Franciscan friars of Saint Saviour’s Monastery went in procession to the patriarchal seat to accompany Mgr. Twal and his entourage into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre The celebration begins right at the door of the Sanctuary in front of the Stone of Unction, when the Patriarch, accompanied by the concelebrants, clergy and ministers turn to the blessing of the fire, the living flame that God transmitted to man through the glorious resurrection of his Son. The small lit candles in the hands of all present make the ceremony even more evocative, giving a sense of deep communion. Then, while the people intone the psalm, the procession advances to the Anastasis where, just in front of the Aedicule, the Patriarch lights the Easter candle, with a flame from the lamp that burns incessantly before the empty tomb, as though to signify that it is from here that "the light of Christ who rose gloriously and illumines all things" comes. Finally, while standing and holding the lit candles, everyone could hear the exultant chant of the Easter Proclamation: "Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God's throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!"

Then follows the long Liturgy of the Word, through which the Church meditates the marvels the Lord worked for his people from Creation (Gen 1:1 - 2:2) because "everything that he had made was very good", to the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:1018), because to Abraham, who did not refuse the Lord even his only son, God promised the blessing of a large progeny "like the stars in the sky and sand beside the sea". From the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Ex 14:15 - 15:1) to the never-ending affection and care for Israel, like the feelings of a husband who will take back "with immense love" the abandoned woman (Is 54:5-14). From the promise to the people of an eternal alliance (Is 55:1011) to the gift of the Law that existed for centuries as a splendid light (Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4), to the aspersion with pure water that gave the people a new heart (Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28).

After the last reading from the Old Testament followed by the psalm and the corresponding prayer, the Patriarch intoned the hymn Gloria in excelsis Deo, that exploded through the assembly to the sound of organ and bells, filling the hearts of all present in the Basilica with feast day joy. Then came the reading of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (Rm 6:3-11) that announces that "Christ rose from the dead to die no more". The high point of the Liturgy of the Word is reached with the proclamation of the resurrection of the Lord, there in the very place where it occurred.

A central aspect of the celebration is also the Baptismal Liturgy, with the blessing of the water and the renewal of baptismal promises that everyone made while standing with a lit candle in hand, and then the aspersion of the faithful with the blessed holy water.

In the afternoon the Franciscan community of the Custody, led by the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, accompanied His Excellency Mgr. Kamal Batish, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who made the entry into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre and presided over the solemn procession in the presence of the friars and a good number of the lay faithful. Very late at night, from 12:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. by solar time, which is used in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre), the pontifical celebration of the Liturgy of Hours before the Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre took place under the presidency of the Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, with the participation of the Custodial Vicar and of the Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre, Brother Fergus Clarke, along with a large number of members of the Franciscan family and groups of the lay and religious faithful.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos of the Easter Vigil by Stefano Dal Pozzolo
Photos of the solemn procession and the Liturgy of Hours by Bro. Giorgio Vigna