The fragrance of Easter comes to us from Bethany

“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany.” This is how the Gospel reading began this Monday, March 21, at the mass celebrated at the Franciscan sanctuary of Bethany (John 12: 1-11). Introduced last year, the Holy Monday liturgy recalls the washing of Jesus’ feet of Jesus by Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ sister, before the Passion. This is where the oil and the spices, which are used on Good Friday at the Holy Sepulcher and at parishes for the Office of Christ’s funeral, are blessed.

The mass was presided over by the Father Custos, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who was accompanied by the Custodial Vicar Br. Dobromir Jasztal, the vicar of the convent of Bethany Br. Eleazar Wronski and forty concelebrants. The atmosphere was familial and everyone had a seat in the packed church: the relaxing atmosphere was appreciated before the excitement for Holy Week’s solemn celebrations at the Holy Sepulcher. “We could have come, like in the Gospel, six days before the Passover, or Saturday,” explained the Custos in his homily. “This would have respected the chronology of events: Jesus came to Bethany and Bethphage, and then he entered Jerusalem, which is celebrated on Palm Sunday. But in this way, we are in unison with the Roman Catholic Church, and this is today’s Gospel reading.”

“There are two opposing attitudes in this text: Mary’s ‘exaggerated’ devotion and Judas’ shocked reaction. On the one hand, we see love without measure, which shocks, and leads to unexpected things like ‘wasting’ a large sum that could be used to help the poor, or wiping his feet with her hair. On the other hand, we see a rational, utilitarian approach.” According to the Father Custos, this reminds us that we need to look at Christ above all and to show him our love as he loved us unconditionally up to the cross.” Since Jesus is not here physically, we must turn to the poorest among us. Through them, he is present among us. However, we should not fall into Judas’ attitude: humanity will always continue to create more wounded people. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12: 8). “Keeping Christ at the heart of our lives prevents us from falling into ideology and social strategies. Mary reminds us that we must remain within a context of love.

At the end of the mass, Br. Pierbattista Pizzaballa poured the blessed oil, the “fragrance of Christ,” a sign of our love for him, into the hands of the faithful. “May our lives continue to spread this fragrance, which makes us recognizable,” he concluded. The guardian of the monastery, Br. Michael Sarquah, then invited the congregation to a dinner.

A Christian family in Bethany was present in the assembly, which was also made up of pilgrims, nuns and regular attendees to the Franciscan celebrations. “We came this year because the priest announced it yesterday at mass,” said Mourad. Few Christians still live in Bethany, and they are isolated from Jerusalem by the separation wall. For Easter, the Israeli authorities issued them permits and they will go to Jerusalem. As far today, the Holy Week liturgy is coming to them. Daniel points out: “It is important that there be a celebration here in Bethany because that anchors our existence here. We are no longer many but we still come here to pray.”

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