The solemn celebrations of the second week of Lent in Jerusalem | Custodia Terrae Sanctae

The solemn celebrations of the second week of Lent in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, 3rd-4th March 2012

On the Saturday and Sunday of this second week of Lent, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is once again the living centre of the Christian community on the path towards the Easter of the Lord. The weekly Lenten liturgy which marks the period of penitence and prayer that must prepare the heart of each Christian to live with great awareness the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, has returned to this Holy Place.

On Saturday afternoon, the Franciscan community of the Custody of the Holy Land, together with Brother Fergus Clarke, guardian of the Holy Sepulchre and Brother Artemio Vitores, Custodial Vicar, once again welcomed H. E. Mons. William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who made the solemn entrance into the basilica, immediately paying homage to the Stone of Unction, which recalls the place where the body of the Saviour was laid, after His death on the cross, to be prepared for burial. Mons. Shomali then guided the daily Procession in solemn form, with the accompaniment of the organ, in the Basilica, with the participation of the Franciscan friars of the community of the Holy Sepulchre, many other friars of the Custody, many religious from the congregations resident in the Holy Land, representatives of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, several members of the local Arab-speaking Christian community and many pilgrims from all over the world who have arrived in this very special period at the Sepulchre of the Lord and who wish to take part in the intense celebrations held here. From the Chapel of the Blessed sacrament, or of the Apparition of Jesus to His Mother, the procession stopped at the fourteen stations that make up the itinerary in the Basilica, with moving moments of song and prayer at each halt.
In the meantime, the other Christian communities also started, in succession, the solemn entrances into the Basilica, and their respective celebrations for Lent.

Late in the evening the appointment of the nocturnal vigil was repeated which, from 11.30 p.m. again brought together at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre the Franciscans of the Custody, together with some members of the local clergy and a good number of pilgrims. The liturgy was presided by the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, and, after the first part celebrated in the Chapel of the Apparition, thronged with people, with the Lenten hymn, the recital of the Psalms, the Office of the Readings and the Canticles of the Old Testament, the Resurrection of the Lord was once again remembered with the typical procession towards the Holy Sepulchre and the circumambulation of the Edicule, whilst Brother Artemio carried the Gospel and the faithful a lit candle. After having taken the Gospel into the Tomb and having dwelled briefly in prayer on the Empty Tomb of Jesus, Brother Artemio, raising the Gospel, gave the solemn blessing to all those present. The vigil then continued with the return of the assembly to the Chapel of the Apparition, where the Gospel of the resurrection was read, there was the solemn acclamation of the Lord risen and the concluding rites were celebrated. Lastly, Brother Artemio presided the celebration of the Holy Mass at the Calvary, with the participation of a significant number of religious and faithful, thus terminating, in deep prayer, this second nocturnal appointment in Lent.

The next morning, the second Sunday in Lent, at 8.30 a.m. following the Latin liturgical tradition, the community of faithful once again met at the altar dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, for the sung and solemnly concelebrated Holy Mass, preceded by the prayer of Lauds. On this occasion too, the Franciscan friars, leaving St. Saviour’s Convent, reached the nearby Patriarchal See and accompanied Mons. William Shomali and his entourage in procession to the Basilica, so that the prelate could attend the Sunday celebration, as according to the liturgical programme. A very large assembly took part, with special devotion, in this solemn Lenten celebration, held very close to the Edicule of the Lord’s Tomb. Alongside Brother Artemio Vitores, Brother Fergus Clarke, Brother Silvio De La Fuente, secretary of the Custody, and the many Franciscans of the Custody, there were religious from the many congregations of the Holy Land, several members of the local Christian community and many pilgrims from different parts of the world. The Holy Mass was presided by Brother Stéphane Milovitch, guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, whilst the homily, delivered from the ambo next to the altar, was given by Brother Sebastiano Eclimes, guardian of the Sanctuary of Dominus Flevit, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. In his reflection, Brother Sebastiano drew special inspiration from the passage of the Gospel according to St. Matthew on the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor (17,1-9), proposed by the liturgy, an episode in which the perfect glory of Jesus Christ appears to the disciples and to which every man is invited to take part in the Grace of the Creator, setting off immediately to grow in the human vocation and approach perfection, according to individual capacities. The period of Lent invites each person, in particular, to this important task, to conform increasingly to Jesus, the model indicated by the Father in the Baptism in the River Jordan and whose perfect glory was revealed on Mount Tabor. With the words “This is my favourite Son. Listen to him,” God the Father exhorts every man to follow Jesus closely, to leave everything to follow His proposal for life, to accept His words and put them in practice in everyday life, to convert hearts to charity, mercy and forgiveness. Because God truly appears in love, in mercy and in forgiveness and His message conforms with His nature of love and perfect communion, far from the violence and vendetta to which men yield so often, even in the name of religion. The challenge, to which Lent calls us most intensely, is precisely that of once again listening to the real voice of the Lord, in the midst of so many false messages, deviating suggestions and manifest injustices.

At the end of the Holy Mass, the Franciscan friars again accompanied Mons. Shomali and his entourage in procession outside the Basilica and along the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, to the Latin Patriarchate, near the Jaffa Gate.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Brother Jerzy Kraj and Brother Adelmo