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20TH MARCH 2005 CELEBRATION OF PALM SUNDAY IN JERUSALEM

Fecha: 21.3.2005
Fuente: Custodia de Tierra Santa

Egeria, the 4th century pilgrim to the Holy Land, gave us the account of the liturgical life of the church of Jerusalem, which is the mother Church of all Christian Churches. She also described the liturgy of Jerusalem, which can be considered as the mother of all liturgies.

The entire Christian world depends upon Jerusalem during this Holy Week. The Holy City assumes a festive atmosphere in order to celebrate the most holy of weeks in the liturgical calendar. The pilgrims throng the streets of the Holy City in all directions and give new life to the liturgical celebrations. Holy Week in Jerusalem has a direct preparation in the celebrations of Lent. In her "Itinerary", Egeria tells us that in Jerusalem the season of Lent was known as the season of the "feasts", since it is related in an inseparable way to Easter, the most important among Christian feasts. The celebrations of Lent in the Holy Places consist in the various "pilgrimages" which the Franciscans celebrate in those sanctuaries which are intimately related to the mysteries of the Lord's Easter. The celebrations which take part in the Holy Sepulchre, or Anastasis (Resurrection dome of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre) are closely related to these "pilgrimages". These celebrations include the solemn entries and the processions during the Saturdays of Lent, and the Vigil celebrations of the Resurrection during the nights between Saturdays and Sundays in Lent. The processions, which take place in the afternoon, are presided by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, accompanied by the Franciscans, whereas the night vigils are presided by the Custos of the Holy Land.

The Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday, which the local Arab Christians call "Hosanna Sunday", while the Arab Muslims call the procession of palms as the "procession of the donkey".

Palm Sunday begins with the procession in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday afternoon, and with the night Vigil (11.40 pm - 12.30 am) with the proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection. As in the times of Egeria, at the end of the 4th century, the proclamation of the Resurrection Gospel is the heart of this celebration.

At 6.30 am on Palm Sunday, the Franciscans of the Holy Land Custody accompanied the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mons. Michel Sabbah to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Upon arrival the Catholic community gathered around the Tomb of the Lord in the Anastasis dome in order to commemorate the solemn entry of Jesus in Jerusalem. The Procession started with the biblical antiphon: "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Hosanna in the highest heavens!" The Patriach then invited the assembly to take part in the celebrations with faith and devotion. The deacon then stood in front of the Tomb edicule, and proclaimed the Gospel which narrates how the crowds went to meet the Lord with branches of olive leaves and palms, acclaiming "Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes" (John 12,16). The Patriarch pronounced a prayer of blessing in which the realities and symbols which are found in the Gospel account are placed within the context of the history of salvation. According to the ancient custom, the bishop then entered the Tomb in order to bless the palms and olive branches with holy water. He sat down to hand the blessed palms and olive braches to the clergy and faithful. The Procession proceeded around the edicule of the Tomb. It went around it three times in an anticlockwise direction, and at the end it proceeded to the area at the foot of Calvary and round the Stone of Antointing. The cantors went into the Tomb and intoned the famous hymn of Bishop Theodolphus "Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit" (Glory, praise and honour be to you). After this, the cantors came out and the Patriarch entered the Tomb. In order to show how the Lord went through the gates of the Holy City, the following antiphon was sung: "Ingrediente Domino in sanctam civitatem" (When the Lord entered the Holy City). In this way the first part of the morning celebration came to an end. Immediately afterwards the assembly gathered in the space within the confines of the Chapel of Saint Mary Magdalen for the celebration of the Eucharist. According to the liturgical custom in all Catholic churches, the Passion narrative of the Lord was sung. This year the Passion narrative was that according to Saint Matthew's Gospel, corresponding to cycle A of the Liturgical Lectionary.

During the afternoon, at the sanctuary which the Holy Land Custody administers in Bethfage, an immense crowd of Christians gather together. They are the local Christians from all parishes in the Holy Land and the pilgrims coming from all over the world. It is difficult to count the numbers of faithful who take part, but this year was a record year with thousands of participants. The atmosphere was festive, although the official announcement was that of a penitential procession in order to pray for peace. The Christian manifestation which took place has not been seen for some years in the Holy Land. According to custom, the Procession left Bethfage and went up the steep hill to the Mount of Olives, proceeded in front of the place of the Ascension (Imbomon), and the Sanctuary of the Our Father (Eleona), and then started to go downhill towards the Sanctuaries of Dominus Flevit and Gethsemani, crossed the Cedron valley close to the Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and then went up again towards Jerusalem going through Saint Stephen's, or Lions' Gate, in order to come to an end in the open space in front of the Basilica of Saint Anne, close to the Sheep's Pool. This itinerary is somewhat different from the way it used to be during the 4th century. During that time, according to Egeria, the itinerary would have gone from the Imbomon, to Eleona, Gethsemani, Grotto of the betrayal, City gate and Anastasis


The Procession began with the blessing of the branches and the proclamation of the Gospel according to Matthew (21,1-11) in Latin and Arabic. Immediately after, the Procession began to unwind according to an organized pattern of various groups, all of whom were singing hymns of praise. At the end of the Procession there were the ecclesiastical authorities, namely, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Custos of the Holy Land, and the Papal Nuncio. Every group gave a particular contribution to the Procession. There were various songs with different rhythms. The afternoon was splendid, with hardly a cloud in the sky and a warm temperature. The only sad note to the Procession was the sight of the separation wall in the distance. The Procession started at 2.30 pm and ended at 5.45 pm in the esplanade in front of Saint Anne's Basilica, where the Patriarch gave a short homily in Arabic and English and blessed the participants with the relic of the Cross. One could also note the presence of Muslims who were looking with respect at the Procession from the doors of their houses. The Catholics have began the celebrations of Holy Week with the optimism which imprints in their souls and hearts the mystery of the humility and glorification of the Cross and the Resurrection.

Enrique Bermejo Cabrera ofm





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