The Holy Land is called the Fifth Gospel, because it complements biblical descriptions. So, how is Easter celebrated in the places where the mysteries of our salvation were fulfilled? Who and what is present there?

Following Jesus

The procession of the Palm Sunday – according to the description of the Gospel – starts from Betfage, a village situated on the Mount of Olives, nearly a few kilometres from gates of Jerusalem. Participants of the procession carry palm branches, sing songs and pray in various languages. Walking so, they come down from the Mount of Olives, enter Jerusalem through the Gate of St. Szczepan and reach to the church of St. Anna where at the end of a prayer the patriarch of Jerusalem gives his blessing with the relics of the Holy Cross.

It is the biggest Catholic procession in the Holy Land which shows, similarly as in the lens, the variety of the Church in the Homeland of Jesus. It significantly differs from the Church in Poland and in the world. In very Jerusalem, on the area of a dozen kilometres square there are six patriarchs representing six Catholic rites: Latin, Melkite, Syrian, Maronite, Armenian and Chaldean. Moreover, there is a Vicariate for the Catholics speaking Hebrew language. However, it does not mean that here there are many Catholics because the population of the Christians in the Holy Land is decreasing every month. For example, in 1940 in Jerusalem about 45 thousand Christians lived, and now there are only 11 thousand of them here, of whom about 0.5 per cent are of the local population. It may be surprising but in this city nearly 10 per cent of the Catholics are priests, nuns and clerics.

In other cities the situation is different, especially in Nazareth and whole Galilea, where there are more followers of Jesus. Nevertheless, today the Christians are abut 1.8 per cent of the society of Israel and the Palestinian Territory, including 0.9 per cent of the Catholics. Therefore, all attempts are made so that the Holy Land would be not only the biblical museum for tourists but also a place of thriving community of believers.

Still (un) available Upper Room

On Thursday morning the patriarch of Jerusalem presides over the Holy Mass in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher during which there is going to be a rite of sanctifying oils (the Chrism Mass), as well as in later hours there is going to be a ceremony of commemorating of Eucharist establishment (Mass of Lord’s Supper). The liturgy is not celebrated in the Upper Room, because there is not permission given to it.

Here it is worth mentioning that for nearly five centuries the Upper Room has been used as a mosque, a place for Muslims’ prayers. The Christians could look only on one of the most important biblical places only through a gap in a wall. At present the Upper Room is a part of yeshiva, that is, a rabbinical school, but is open to pilgrims. There is a synagogue under it, which commemorates the grave of king David. Although there are not archeological remains of the grave from three thousand years ago there, it is a place of cult.

For years there have been attempts made to make the Upper Room return to the Franciscans because it used to be a part of their cloister, before they were evicted from that place by the Muslims in the mid of XVI century. There are premises which let us hope that the Upper Room will become a place for celebrating the everyday Eucharist again.

Good Friday

The mystery of the Passion and death of Jesus Christ are celebrated in places in which they took place. On Friday morning there is a ceremony of Liturgy of Lord’s Passion. After that relics of the Holy Cross are exposed to the public adoration. Although many people participate in the liturgy, on this day the whole basilica is engulfed in a significant silence.

About midday in narrow streets of Jerusalem, there is a divine service of the Road of the Cross. The prayer of believers merges with the voices of traders in a bazaar through which one walks. Although it is not helpful for a prayer, one realizes how it was really at the time when Jesus was walking that road.

In the evening in the Basilica of Lord’s Sepulcher there is a significant rite of the funeral of Jesus. On Calvary a deacon takes out long steel nails from hands and legs of the figure of Jesus, after which the figure of Jesus is taken off from the cross, and there is a symbolic rite of sprinkling the body with spices before the funeral. Next, the figure of Christ is laid in a grave, in which Jesus was really buried.

Friday is experienced in the shadow of Calvary, or - as the Evangelist wrote – of Golgotha which literally means ‘a place of a skull’ (J 19.17). The name ‘Golgotha’ may refer to forming a skull-like area on which the cross was placed. It may also be an echo of assumptions of the first Christians who thought that Jesus had been crucified on the grave of Adam, and blood of the Redeemer was to purify the skull of the first man from sins and bring back the entrance for the lost paradise. Certainly, it would not concern a literal meaning but the depth of a theological message. Anyway, the skull which we often see beneath the cross symbolizes the skull of Adam whose sins are redeemed by the Passion and death of Jesus.

Empty tomb…

The custodians of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher are the representatives of the three Christian religions: roman-catholic, Greek-orthodox, and Apostolic Armenian Church. Moreover, there are the Orthodox: the Copts, Syrians and Ethiopians who have the right for their chapels. In relation to this variety of Christian religions, each of them has assigned hours of prayer. Therefore, the Catholics celebrate their liturgy of the Passover eve on Saturday morning, not evening or on Sunday morning – as it has been accepted in many countries. The specifics of the liturgy in Jerusalem is the fact that the paschal candle is lighted from an olive lamp over the empty tomb from which Jesus rose from death.

The light has a particular significance in the ceremonies of the Easter, which is particularly seen this year, when the Catholics and the Orthodox celebrate together the Resurrection. On Easter Saturday there is an orthodox liturgy which can be called a liturgy of the light. In the afternoon, the Greek-orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem or his deputy enters Lord’s tomb in which all the lights are turned off and after a prayer he comes out of it with lighted candles in order to give the fire to believers. It is a very old liturgy probably reaching the 5th century. Some people speak about a miracle but it would require a further scientific analysis.

On Saturday evening Vespers are sung at Lord’s Tomb and the Hour of Readings takes place in the chapel of the Holy Sacrament, where the meeting of Jesus with Our Lady after the Resurrection is commemorated, which is mentioned just by the Fifth Gospel. On this day the Polish tradition of sanctifying food is celebrated in Polish houses run by Elizabeth Sisters.

Whereas on Sunday morning, the solemn Holy Mass in the place of the Resurrection is presided over by the patriarch of Jerusalem. Whereas the Christians from all over the world move to this place from where there is the confession of Mary Magdalena:

I have already seen Lord’s empty tomb,
And angelic witnesses and scarves, and clothes.
Christ, my Lord and hope has risen from death,
And Galiea will be the place of the meeting.


"Niedziela" 16/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl