Solemn Celebrations for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, 17-18 March, 2012

This Saturday before the Fourth Sunday of Lent once again saw the weekly liturgical program that marks this period of preparation for Easter focusing on the Franciscan community of the Custody of the Holy Land and the local Latin Patriarchate, who together engaged in the solemn celebrations held, according to custom, in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

Late in the afternoon, in the Chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the Risen Jesus to Mary, His Mother), First Vespers were celebrated. With Brother Carlos Molina, vocal soloist of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, presiding, Vespers saw the participation of the Franciscan community of the Custody, local clergy, and a large number of pilgrims.

Late at night, beginning at 11:30 p.m., they gathered again for the usual nocturnal vigil. The Custos of the Holy Land, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, presided over the celebration, in the presence of a large group of participants that completely filled the Chapel of the Apparition and the space outside of it in front of the confessionals and the altar dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, all the way up to the Aedicule of the Holy Sepulchre. Together with the Custodial Vicar, Brother Artemio Vitores, a very large number of members of the Franciscan community attended, as well as male and female religious of the many congregations of the Holy Land, local Arabic-speaking Christians and many pilgrims who, above all in this period of preparation for Easter, bring life to the Holy City. After the first part of the liturgy was celebrated inside the Chapel of the Apparition, the Resurrection of the Lord was again commemorated with the procession to the Holy Sepulchre and around the Aedicule, while the Custos solemnly carried the Gospel Lectionary and everyone present held a lighted candle. Accompanied by the singing and prayer of the assembly, Brother Pizzaballa entered the empty Tomb of our Lord with the Gospel Lectionary, and paused there for a brief meditation. Leaving the Aedicule, the Custos bestowed the solemn benediction on the faithful. The assembly then turned toward the Chapel of the Apparition, where the last part of the vigil was celebrated. Holy Mass followed at Calvary.

The next morning, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, the community of the faithful followed Latin liturgical tradition and once again assembled at the altar of Saint Mary Magdalene in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre to assist at the sung and concelebrated Solemn Mass preceded by Morning Prayer. The Fourth Sunday of Lent is defined by the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church as Laetare Sunday, from the Latin word for “rejoice” or “be glad” And the people have, in fact, a reason to rejoice: the imminent arrival of their redemption on Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord. The Introit reads “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in morning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” (Is. 66:10-11). One feels this sense of joy at the approach of liberation thanks to the liturgical symbols. The celebrant priests, in fact, wear a pink chasuble (priestly vestment) instead of purple. The purple that represents Lenten penitence, in fact, gives way to the less gloomy, brighter pink, and will soon cede to the pure, sparkling white of Easter Sunday.

Again, the Franciscan friars of the Custody went in procession to the Latin Patriarchate, a short distance from the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, and solemnly accompanied His Excellency Mgr. William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre so that the prelate could take part in the Sunday celebration, as provided by the liturgical program. Together with Brother Silvio De La Fuente, Custodial Secretary, and Brother Stephane Milovitch, guardian of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, both of whom were at Mgr. Shomali’s sides, and Brother Fergus Clarke, guardian of the Holy Sepulchre, a very large number of members of the Franciscan community of the Holy Land attended the solemn celebration. Also attending were male and female religious of other congregations, local Catholics and pilgrims from many parts of the world. Holy Mass was under the presidence of Brother Carlos Molina, while the homily was given from the ambo to the side of the altar by Brother Nerwan Nasser Al-Bana, pastor of the Latin parish of Jerusalem.

At the end of the Holy Mass, the Franciscans accompanied Mgr. Shomali and his entourage in procession, leaving the basilica and passing through the narrow roads of the Christian Quarter of the Old City to arrive at the patriarchal seat.

Text by Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Bro. Giorgio Vigna

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