"Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead" (John 12, 1). This are the opening words of Chapter 12 of the Gospel according to John, which introduces the episode of the unction of Jesus’ feet with perfume of pure nard by his friend Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The mention at the beginning of “six days before Passover” allows us to remember this episode on the Monday of Holy Week, six days before the Sunday of the Resurrection.
In the Holy Land, we have the privilege of celebrating the events of the Scriptures in the very places where they happened and Bethany is no exception. In this village located on the east side of the Mount of Olives, there is a small sanctuary where the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land hold one of the Lenten peregrinations recalling the episode of the resurrection of Lazarus: they commemorate the memory of Saints Lazarus, Mary and Martha on 29th July and celebrate the ceremony of the blessing of the oils, aromas and nard on Holy Monday. The latter represents the second Easter liturgy of Holy Week after that of Palm Sunday.
During the celebration, presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, the perfumed oils which will be used next Good Friday in the parishes of Jerusalem and in the Holy Sepulchre in the traditional funeral procession, are blessed. The blessing of the unguents intends to commemorate three events: Mary’s perfuming of Jesus alive in Bethany, the tribute paid to the dead Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, and the intention of the three women who took aromas to the empty tomb after the resurrection.
The hymn Vexilla Regis opened the Holy Mass and accompanied the procession led by the Father Custos before the altar and then in the right-hand nave, where the new organ of the church was blessed: “We want to bless this new organ donated to our sanctuary of Bethania by the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Germany: thanks to this organ, the liturgy and the praise of the Lord can be more solemn in this house of friendship.”
In his comment on the readings, Fr. Francesco outlined the profile of the three figures emerging from the Gospel (John 12, 1-11): Mary, Jesus and Judas. “The first to emerge is Mary, who is the only one able to express in depth all the richness and the spontaneous and gratuitous nature of love. Secondly, poor Judas emerges from the story just listened to, who protests together with Jesus and Mary and expresses a point of view that puts economic reasons before the reasons of the heart. Lastly, the figure of Jesus emerges, who goes freely and consciously towards his death and states this in a familiar context such as that of the dinner in the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary.” He continued, “In actual fact, by clarifying this link between the perfume poured out by Mary and his death, Jesus helps us to understand that, just as Mary pours the highly precious perfume over Jesus’ feet, Jesus will sprinkle the feet of humanity with very precious perfume. He will not pour 300 grams of nard, but will give his own life with exaggerated love, succeeding in defeating – in his own tomb - not only the odour of death but death itself.”
After the homily, the unguents were blessed in front of the altar, during which the loving enthusiasm and the example of Mary, the friend of the Lord, were exalted: “Let’s look with admiration at squandering a perfume due to an overabundance of measureless love, up to embracing for us the abomination of the cross.” At the end of the Mass, the hands of those present were anointed with the unguent that had just been blessed.
Filippo De Grazia