“Last year, there were five of us”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa (archive) © Andrea Krogmann (KNA)

Celebrations of the Western Churches’ three days of Easter have begun at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A procession to the Upper Room on Mount Zion and a nightly prayer vigil at the Garden of Gethsemane will follow in the afternoon.

The sacraments are not a magical formula, but rather a sign of Christ’s power to save, which must also come to the world through the proclamation of the Word and the witness of life, said the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper with the washing of the feet and the consecration of chrism.

Unlike last year, the celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher took place with the participation of believers despite the coronavirus pandemic. From Maundy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday, Christians commemorate the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Sacramental dimension of the church

At the beginning of his sermon, the Italian Franciscan expressed joy at the return to a certain normality of worship celebrations. "Last year there were five of us here, and we sneaked in," he told the assembled faithful.

The commemoration of the Last Supper is a good opportunity to recall fundamental elements that "build us up as the people of God, as the Church of Christ," Pizzaballa continued. To this end, he counted the sacramental dimension of the Church.

Priests should be humble

Christ entrusted to the Church the mission of sanctifying all men and leading them to salvation. He called on priests to be "a living and credible witness" of union with Christ. The renewal of priestly promises that will take place during the celebration also includes an invitation to the people of God to pray for the bishop and priests, he said.

At the same time, priests must be humble enough to be challenged by the faithful, "since they have the right to see us as courageous witnesses of the Gospel and as signs of an authentic life that speaks for itself, not through empty words or false deceptions," the archbishop said.

Washing of feet and consecration of oil

Usually the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is celebrated only in the evening, but in the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre it is moved to the morning because of local conditions. Pizzaballa washed the feet of twelve Franciscan friars and seminarians in memory of Jesus’ servant gesture and consecrated the holy oils. At the same time, the mass recalled Jesus’ Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood.

On Good Friday, Christians walk along the Via Dolorosa in memory of Jesus’ Passion. For historical reasons, the Easter vigil of Catholics is held early on Holy Saturday morning. Due to the different calendar calculations the Easter Sunday of the Eastern churches falls this year only on 2. May. The week-long Jewish Passover began with the Seder meal last Saturday night.

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