Monthly Archives: March 2013

We all know that Jesus, as He endured His agony on the Cross, entrusted His Blessed Mother into the care of St. John the beloved disciple. But what effect did that event have on St. John? Specifically, how did it affect his perspective on the Resurrection?

“We are told that after St. Peter had examined the tomb, St. John entered and when he saw, he believed. Whilst we are told in verse 9 that they didn’t yet understand the Scripture that Jesus “had to rise from the dead”, St. John had some sort of faith in the Resurrected Jesus…. Just a few verses prior to this statement of St. John’s belief (Jn 20:9), we are told that he had taken the Blessed Virgin Mary into his own home (Jn 19:27). Think about it…”

A fascinating read over at Veritas Lux Mea!


Let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult!

Let Angel ministers of God exult!

Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!

Be glad!

Let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with light from her eternal King!

Let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness!


Let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His glory!

Let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!

Now that the days of the Lord’s Passion have drawn to a close,

May we who celebrate the gladness of the Paschal Feast

Come with Christ’s help, and exulting in spirit,

To those feasts that are celebrated in eternal joy! Amen!

On the feast of Easter

Deo omnis gloria!

In our final postcard from 4th-century Jerusalem, St. Egeria describes the celebration of Easter, including the Octave, beginning with the Vigil. The Paschal Vigil was “held as with us,” she said, meaning that it was celebrated in Jerusalem as it was in her Latin Rite parish back home, except for the additions which she details. Egeria’s description of Lent and of the Easter Triduum gives us food for thought.

First of all, she mentions the remarkable fact that the celebration of the Vigil and of Easter were essentially the same in Jerusalem as they were thousands of miles away in France or in Spain. Christians all over the known world were celebrating the same Resurrection in essentially the same manner – and with the same doctrinal beliefs, I might add, despite the fact that at this point in time (c. 383 A.D.) no canon of Scripture had as yet been decided upon. The bishops of the Catholic Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 had standardized the date for the celebration of Easter. They also rejected the Arian proposition that Jesus was a creature, insisting that He was “begotten, not made” as well as “homoousios,” consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance) with the Father. Therefore, the One Who rose on Easter was God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. The bishops would, in a few short years from the Easter celebration that Egeria chronicles, meet again in council to discern the canon of Scripture (more on that as my series on the canon continues next week).

Secondly, we see the 4th-century Jerusalem Christians acting out the events of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. This lends credence to the Catholic insistence on the observance of Lent. Every year Catholics “walk through” the events of the life of Jesus, because human beings learn by doing. We can read about it, talk about it, think about it, watch The Passion of the Christ till our eyeballs fall out, but there is no substitute for doing it. Catholics reenact the suffering, death and Resurrection of the Lord every year, making us in a small way participants of those events. It changes us. I hope this year you have let it change you!

The 4th-century Christians would not have dreamed of missing their opportunity to participate in the Easter Triduum. I beg you, if you have never taken part in the Easter Vigil at a Catholic parish – don’t miss this God-given chance! Be there this evening!

The Tomb of Jesus

On the next day, the Sabbath, the usual services are held at the third and sixth hours; but at the ninth hour on the Sabbath the service is not held, for the paschal vigils are prepared for in the Great Church – i.e., in the Martyrium. The paschal vigils are held as with us, with this addition only, that the children when they have been baptized and robed, after coming out of the font, are escorted along with the bishop first to the Anastasis. The bishop goes inside the rails of the Anastasis, one hymn is sung, and then the bishop offers prayer for them, and so comes to the Great Church with them. There, when all the people are keeping vigil after the customary manner, the same ceremonies are observed as are usual with us, and the oblation having been offered, Mass is celebrated. And after the Mass of vigils is over in the Great Church, they come straightway with hymns to the Anastasis, and there again is read the passage of the Gospel about the Resurrection. Prayer is made, and again the bishop makes an offering, but all is done quickly, on account of the people, that there may be no more delay, and so the people are dismissed. The Mass of vigils is held on that day at the same hour as with us.

Thus in the evening those paschal days are observed as with us, and Masses are celebrated in proper order throughout the eight paschal days, as is everywhere done through out the octave of Easter. There is the same decoration and the same order of service throughout the eight days of Easter as throughout Epiphany in the Great Church, at the Anastasis, at the Cross, in Olivet, also in Bethlehem and at the Lazarium, and everywhere else.

On the day itself, the first Lord’s day, there is a procession to the Great Church – i.e., the Martyrium – and on the second and third day also; so, however, that always when Mass has been celebrated at the Martyrium they come to the Anastasis with hymns. But on the fourth day they go in procession to Olivet, on the fifth day to the Anastasis, on the sixth day to Sion, on the Sabbath in front of the Cross, and on the Lord’s day – i.e., the octave – to the Great Church, the Martyrium, again.

Daily during these eight paschal days after breakfast the bishop, with all the clergy, and all the children who have been baptized, and all who are Renuntiants, both men and women, and as many of the people as wish, goes up to Olivet. Hymns are sung and prayers are offered both in the church in Olivet, where is the cave in which Jesus used to teach the disciples, and also in Imbomon, that is, the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven. And after that psalms have been sung and prayer offered, they descend again to the Anastasis with hymns at the hour of vespers. This is done throughout the whole eight days. But on the Lord’s day – i.e., Easter day – after vespers at the Anastasis, all the people escort the bishop with hymns to Sion. When they have come there, hymns suitable to the day and place are sung, prayer is offered, and that place is read from the Gospel where on the same day the Lord entered in to the disciples when the doors were shut in the same place where the church now is in Sion. That was the occasion on which one of the disciples, viz., Thomas, was not there, and when he returned and the other Apostles said to him that they had seen the Lord, he answered, ‘I will not believe, except I see.’ This having been read, prayer is again offered, the catechumens are blessed, also the faithful, and everyone returns to his own home late, about the second hour of the night.

On Holy Saturday

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Voice in the Wilderness blog:

“For there is no one, great or small, who does not weep on that day during those three hours in a way that cannot be measured, that the Lord should have suffered such things for us.”

By the time that they have come in front of the Cross it begins to be broad daylight. Then again that passage is read from the Gospel where the Lord is brought before Pilate, and everything which it is written that Pilate said to the Lord or to the Jews is read. Then the bishop addresses the people, encouraging them, as they have toiled all night, and are about to toil all day, not to be weary, but to have hope in God, who will give them a greater reward in return for that toil. And so encouraging them as he can, he thus addresses them: ‘Go, every one of you, home now to your cells, and sit there for a little while, and by the second hour of the day be all ready here, that from that hour to the sixth you may be able to gaze upon the holy wood of the cross, trusting each one that it will profit us for our salvation. After the sixth hour we must all meet again in front of the Cross, that we may give ourselves to lections and prayers until night.’

After this then they are dismissed from the Cross, the sun not being yet up. Straightway the more ardent ones go up to Sion to pray at that pillar at which the Lord was scourged. Then, having returned, they sit down for a little while in their own houses, and soon are all ready again. A chair is placed for the bishop in Golgotha behind the Cross, which stands there now; the bishop sits down in the chair, there is placed before him a table covered with a linen cloth, the deacons standing round the table. Then is brought a silver-gilt casket, in which is the holy wood of the cross; it is opened, and the contents being taken out, the wood of the cross and also its inscription are placed on the table. When they have been put there, the bishop, as he sits, takes hold of the extremities of the holy wood with his hands, and the deacons, standing round, guard it. It is thus guarded because the custom is that every one of the people, faithful and catechumens alike, leaning forward, bend over the table, kiss the holy wood, and pass on. And as it is said that one time a person fixed his teeth in it, and so stole a piece of the holy wood, it is now guarded by the deacons standing round, so that no one who comes may dare to do such a thing again. And so all the people pass on one by one, bowing their bodies down, first with their forehead, then with their eyes, touching the cross and the inscription, and so kissing the cross they pass by, but no one puts forth his hand to touch it. When they have kissed the cross and have passed by, the deacon stands and holds Solomon’s ring, and the horn with which the kings were anointed; they kiss the horn and touch the ring. . . . second . . . up to the sixth hour all the people pass by, entering by one door and going out by another; for this is done in the same place in which the day before (the fifth day) the oblation was made.

And when the sixth hour has come they go in front of the cross in all weathers; for this place is exposed to the open sky, being a kind of atrium, very large and beautiful, situated between the Cross and the Anastasis. Then all the people collect there so that no one can pass through. A chair is placed for the bishop in front of the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hour nothing else is done but to read lections as follows: First they read from the Psalms where the Passion is spoken of; then from the Apostolos, either from the Apostolic Epistles, or from the Acts, wherever the Lord’s Passion is mentioned; also the passages from the Gospels where He suffered are read. Then they read from the prophets where they foretold that the Lord would suffer, and from the Gospels where He speaks of His Passion. So from the sixth to the ninth hour lections are always being read, or hymns sung, that it may be shown to all the people that whatever the prophets foretold about the Lord’s Passion is proved by the Gospels or by the writings of the Apostles to have taken place. So for those three hours all the people are taught that nothing took place which was not first foretold, and that nothing was predicted which was not fully accomplished. And continually prayers suitable to the day are interspersed. At the several lections and prayers there is such emotion displayed and lamentation of all the people as is wonderful. For there is no one, great or small, who does not weep on that day during those three hours in a way that cannot be measured, that the Lord should have suffered such things for us.

After this, when it begins to be the ninth hour, that passage from the Gospel according to John is read where He gave up the ghost, which having been read, prayer is offered, and Mass celebrated. But when Mass has been celebrated in front of the Cross, forthwith all things are done in the Great Church at the Martyrium which it is usual to do throughout that week from the ninth hour, when they come to the Martyrium, until late. And Mass having been celebrated, they come from the Martyrium into the Anastasis; and when they have come there the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph asks Pilate for the body of the Lord, and places it in a new tomb. This passage having been read, prayer is offered, the catechumens are blessed, and so they are dismissed. But on that day there is no announcement made of vigil at the Anastasis, for it is known that the people are tired out. But it is usual, nevertheless, to hold a vigil there. Those of the people who wish it – that is, all those who are able – keep vigil; those who are not able do not keep vigil till the morning. But the clergy keep vigil there – that is, the stronger and younger of them – and during the whole night hymns and antiphons are sung there until the morning; but most people keep vigil from late in the evening, or from the middle of the night, as they are able.

On Good Friday

Deo omnis gloria!

The cave of Gethsemane

As of this evening,
Lent is over, and what a Lent it has been! Today begins the Easter Triduum, consisting of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. In today’s Postcard from a Pilgrim, we relive the late 4th-century memorial of the night Jesus was betrayed. The bishop of Jerusalem and his flock head back up the Mount of Olives, this time to Gethsemane, not to return until dawn!

Note that when St. Egeria refers to Gethsemane, she is talking about a cave (which is why, as she says, “over 200 church candles are prepared to give light”). Gethsemane was a property on the Mount of Olives on which there was a cave,
measuring 36 x 60 feet, containing one or perhaps two olive-oil presses. Oil presses were not in use in the spring, and the cave would have made a good accommodation for the many pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We know that the evening on which Jesus was betrayed was cold and damp; St. Peter warms himself by the fire before the cock crows. Jesus and his disciples did not rest out in the open that night. The disciples took refuge in the cave, while Jesus went apart into the garden (“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray.”) The cave has been the site of pilgrimage since that time, and is today overseen by the Franciscans of the Custody.

Again on the fifth day, from cockcrow up to early morning, the usual things are done at the Anastasis; likewise at the third and sixth hours. But at the eighth hour all the people assemble at the Martyrium as usual, but in better time than on the other days, because it is necessary that service should be over sooner. And so all the people being collected, they do the things which are to be done; on this day the oblation is made at the Martyrium, and service is held at about the tenth hour. But before the dismissal is given the archdeacon raises his voice and says: ‘At the first hour of the night let us all meet at the church in Olivet, for our greatest labour presses on us on the night of this day.’ Then when the service at the Martyrium is over, they come behind the Cross, where one hymn only is sung, prayer is made, the bishop offers there the oblation, and all communicate. But except on this one day, throughout the whole year there is no offering [made] behind the Cross. So Mass having been celebrated there, they go to the Anastasis, prayer is made, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed according to custom, and they are dismissed. Then each one hastens to return home that he may eat, for as soon as they have eaten they all go up to Olivet to that church in which is the cave where the Lord was on that day with the Apostles. And there, up to about the fifth hour of the night, continually there are hymns and antiphons suited to the day and place, lessons are read, and prayers are interspersed. Also those, places from the Gospel are read where the Lord talked with the disciples on the same day as He sat in the very cave which is in the church. And now at about the sixth hour of the night they go up to the Imbomon with hymns, to that place whence the Lord ascended into heaven. And there again in like manner lections and hymns and antiphons suitable to the day are said; the prayers also which are said by the bishop are always suitable to the day and place.

And so when the cocks begin to crow they descend from the Imbomon with hymns, and come to that place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: ‘And He withdrew from them about a stone’s-cast, and prayed.’ In that place there is an elegant church, into which the bishop and all the people enter; a prayer is said there suitable to the day and place, and the passage is read from the Gospel where He said to His disciples: ‘Watch, lest ye enter into temptation.’ And the whole passage is read, and then a prayer is said. And thence with hymns all down to the smallest child descend on foot to Gethsemane along with the bishop, where, on account of the great crowd of people wearied with vigils and worn out with daily fastings, because they have to descend so great a mountain, they come gently and slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. Over two hundred church candles are prepared to give light to all the people. When they have arrived at Gethsemane, first a suitable prayer is offered, then a hymn is sung, then that passage from the Gospel is read where the Lord was apprehended; and when this passage has been read there is such a moaning and groaning of all the people, with weeping, that the groans can be heard almost at the city. From that hour they go to the city on foot with hymns, and arrive at the gate at the time when one man begins to be able to recognize another. Thence throughout the city they all assemble for the same object, great and small, rich and poor; for on that day specially no one keeps back from the vigil until early morning. So the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane as far as the gate, and thence through the whole city as far as the Cross.

…they all assemble for the same object, great and small, rich and poor; for on that day specially no one keeps back from the vigil until early morning.
Everyone participated in the commemoration on Holy Thursday. The Easter Triduum comes but once a year – make sure you’re a part of it!! See you tonight!

On Holy Thursday

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits: Voice in the Wilderness blog:


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Catholics have a big week ahead of them – we’ll be all tied up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, not to mention Sunday morning! But if you had been a parishioner at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in 383 A.D., your schedule would have been a whole lot more crowded. Some of us 21st-century Catholic wusses are still complaining that we had to stand up for that whole long Palm Sunday reading yesterday morning! Had you been a Catholic in Jerusalem 1,630 years ago, you would have hiked up the Mount of Olives to hear the story of the Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and then hiked all the way back down….

And you wouldn’t be taking a breather for the next three days, either. Here is St. Egeria’s description of the Monday before Easter:

Again on the next day – that is, the second day of the week – the usual services are held at the Anastasis from cockcrow to early morning; and similarly at the third and sixth hours those things are done which are customary throughout Lent. But at the ninth hour all assemble in the Great Church – i.e., at the Martyrium; and there up to the first hour of the night hymns and psalms are continually sung, lections appropriate to the day and place are read, and prayers are constantly interspersed. There vespers are held when it begins to be the hour, and so it is night when the dismissal is given at the Martyrium. When it is concluded the bishop is escorted to the Anastasis with hymns; and as they are entering into the Anastasis one hymn is sung, a prayer is offered, the catechumens are blessed and also the faithful, and they are dismissed.

On Tuesday the commemoration is a little more elaborate. It’s back up the Mount of Olives at night!


The Mount of Olives

On the third day of the week all things are done in like manner as on the second. This alone is added on the third day, that, late at night, after service has been held at the Martyrium and they have gone to the Anastasis, and again service has been held in the Anastasis, they all at that hour of the night go out to the church on the Mount of Olives. When they have come to this church, the bishop enters into the cave, where the Lord was wont to teach His disciples, and receives the book of the Gospel, and, standing, he reads the words of the Lord written in the Gospel according to Matthew, where it is said, ‘See that no man deceive you.’ All that discourse the bishop reads. And when he has read it prayer is offered, the catechumens are blessed, and also the faithful; the dismissal is given, and they return from the mount each to his own home very late at night.

This is the discourse that the assembled would have heard at the church on the Mount of Olives:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.

Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’

And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

St. Cyril, the bishop of Jerusalem during Egeria’s stay there, undoubtedly urged the people to take these words very seriously. After all, he himself had been deposed for selling church property to feed the poor during a famine! To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me!

On Wednesday evening the commemoration was more solemn. No more traipsing up the Mount; everything took place inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as they marked the betrayal of the Lord by His apostle, Judas:

On the fourth day everything is done from cockcrow as on the second and third days; but after service has been held at night at the Martyrium, and the bishop has been escorted with hymns to the Anastasis, forthwith he enters the cave within the Anastasis, and stands inside the rails. A priest stands before the rails, and takes the Gospel and reads that passage where Judas Iscariot went to the Jews and determined what they would give him to betray the Lord. And when this passage has been read, there is such a groaning and moaning of all the people that there is no one who would not be moved to tears at that hour. Finally prayer is offered, the catechumens are blessed, and afterwards the faithful, and so they are dismissed.

And then home to rest, and to prepare for the Easter Triduum….

See you there!


On Monday of Holy Week

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credits:  Voice in the Wilderness blog:

The Mount of Olives

Another postcard from the past: St. Egeria’s description of the celebration of Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, c. 383 A.D. – 1,630 years ago today. The diagrams (from Wikipedia) below depict the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This was built at the order of Emperor Constantine as two connected churches, which Egeria refers to as the “Anastasis” and the “Martyrium.”

But on the next day – that is, the Lord’s day – which begins the Paschal Week, called here the Great Week, they proceed from cock-crow to go through the usual ceremonies in the Anastasis, and at the Cross until the morning. Early on the Lord’s day they proceed, as usual, to the Great Church, called the Martyrium. It is so called because it is in Golgotha – i.e., behind the cross where the Lord suffered, and so is a Martyrium or Testimony. When all things have been celebrated, according to custom, in the Great Church, before the dismissal is given the archdeacon raises his voice, and says first: ‘During the ensuing week – that is, from to-morrow – let us all meet at the ninth hour at the Martyrium’ – i.e., in the Great Church. Again he raises his voice a second time and says: ‘To-day let us all be ready at the seventh hour in Eleona.’ Then the dismissal having been given in the Great Church – i.e. at the Martyrium – the bishop is conducted with hymns to the Anastasis, and there the ceremonial having been gone through which is customary in the Anastasis on the Lord’s day after Mass at the Martyrium, everyone goes home and hastens to eat, that at the seventh hour, now beginning, they may all be ready in the church in Eleona – i.e., in the Mount of Olives. The cave in which the Lord used to teach is there.

So at the seventh hour all the people and also the bishop go up to the Mount of Olives (i.e., Eleona) to the church; hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and place are sung and lections read in like manner. And when it begins to be the ninth hour they go up with hymns to the Imbomon – that is, to the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven – and there they sit down. For all the people are always bid sit down in the presence of the bishop; only the deacons always remain standing. Hymns and antiphons suitable to the place and the day are sung, and in like manner lections and prayers are interspersed. And now when it begins to be the eleventh hour, that place from the Gospel is read where the children with branches and palms met the Lord, saying: ‘Blessed is He that Cometh in the Name of the Lord.’ And forthwith the bishop arises and all the people, and they go down on foot the whole way from the summit of the Mount of Olives. For all the people go before him, responding the while with hymns and antiphons: ‘Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.’ And all the children in those parts are there holding branches of olive-trees or palms; even those who cannot walk because of their tender years are supported on the hill by their parents. And thus the bishop is escorted like as the Lord was in former time. From the top of the hill to the city, and from thence to the Anastasis, throughout the whole city, they all go the whole way on foot, lords and ladies alike; thus they escort the bishop, singing in response, but slowly and gently, so that the people may not be wearied. When they have come, although it is late, they have vespers; then a prayer is said at the Cross, and the people are dismissed.

Once more we vicariously participate in a 4th-century Catholic aerobic workout, this time up and down the Mount of Olives! Bishops back in those days must have been made of some pretty sturdy stuff! They were certainly held in great esteem as a symbol of the unity of the body of Christ. As Egeria writes: “And thus the bishop is escorted like as the Lord was in former time. From the top of the hill to the city, and from thence to the Anastasis, throughout the whole city, they all go the whole way on foot, lords and ladies alike; thus they escort the bishop….”

St Cyril of Jerusalem

St. Cyril of Jerusalem was the bishop at the time of Egeria’s sojourn, and fortunately much is known about him. He was a tough old guy, about 70 when Egeria was visiting, and believe me, he had to be tough. He was embroiled in the Arian controversy, and was banished from his see by the Arian Emperor Valens. He was deposed several other times on the charge that he had sold Church property, and was indeed guilty as charged – he sold sacramental ornaments and imperial gifts to feed the poor. He must have been a stirring speaker; Egeria tells us that sometimes when he was explaining the mysteries, the applause from the assembled was so loud that it could be heard outside the church. Here is part of his Catechetical Lecture 13 on the crucifixion. I count 16 quotes from Scripture, not counting the allusions (and this isn’t the whole text).

On the words, Crucified and Buried.

Isaiah 53:1, 7

Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?…He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, etc.

Every deed of Christ is a cause of glorying to the Catholic Church, but her greatest of all glorying is in the Cross; and knowing this, Paul says, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of Christ. (Gal 6:14) For wondrous indeed it was, that one who was blind from his birth should receive sight in Siloam ; but what is this compared with the blind of the whole world? A great thing it was, and passing nature, for Lazarus to rise again on the fourth day; but the grace extended to him alone, and what was it compared with the dead in sins throughout the world? Marvellous it was, that five loaves should pour forth food for the five thousand; but what is that to those who are famishing in ignorance through all the world? It was marvellous that she should have been loosed who had been bound by Satan eighteen years: yet what is this to all of us, who were fast bound in the chains of our sins? But the glory of the Cross led those who were blind through ignorance into light, loosed all who were held fast by sin, and ransomed the whole world of mankind.

And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf. Moreover one man’s sin, even Adam’s, had power to bring death to the world; but if by the trespass of the one death reigned over the world, how shall not life much rather reign by the righteousness of the One (Rom 5:17-18)? And if because of the tree of food they were then cast out of paradise, shall not believers now more easily enter into paradise because of the Tree of Jesus? If the first man formed out of the earth brought in universal death, shall not He who formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, being Himself the Life? If Phinees, when he waxed zealous and slew the evil-doer, staved the wrath of God, shall not Jesus, who slew not another, but gave up Himself for a ransom (1 Tim 2:6), put away the wrath which is against mankind?

Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Saviour, but rather glory in it. For the word of the Cross is unto Jews a stumbling-block, and unto Gentiles foolishness, but to us salvation: and to them that are perishing it is foolishness, but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God. For it was not a mere man who died for us, as I said before, but the Son of God, God made man. Further; if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer (Ex 12:23) far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save? If any disbelieve the power of the Crucified, let him ask the devils; if any believe not words, let him believe what he sees. Many have been crucified throughout the world, but by none of these are the devils scared; but when they see even the Sign of the Cross of Christ, who was crucified for us, they shudder. For those men died for their own sins, but Christ for the sins of others; for He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. It is not Peter who says this, for then we might suspect that he was partial to his Teacher; but it is Esaias who says it, who was not indeed present with Him in the flesh, but in the Spirit foresaw His coming in the flesh. Yet why now bring the Prophet only as a witness? Take for a witness Pilate himself, who gave sentence upon Him, saying, I find no fault in this Man (Lk 23:14): and when he gave Him up, and had washed his hands, he said, I am innocent of the blood of this just person (Mt 27:24). There is yet another witness of the sinlessness of Jesus—the robber, the first man admitted into Paradise; who rebuked his fellow, and said, We receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing amiss ; for we were present, both you and I, at His judgment.

Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the Cross was no illusion , otherwise our redemption is an illusion also. His death was not a mere show , for then is our salvation also fabulous. If His death was but a show, they were true who said, We remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I rise again (Mt 27:63) His Passion then was real: for He was really crucified, and we are not ashamed thereat; He was crucified, and we deny it not, nay, I rather glory to speak of it. For though I should now deny it, here is Golgotha to confute me, near which we are now assembled; the wood of the Cross confutes me, which was afterwards distributed piecemeal from hence to all the world. I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection; for if, after being crucified, He had remained as He was, I had not perchance confessed it, for I might have concealed both it and my Master; but now that the Resurrection has followed the Cross, I am not ashamed to declare it.

Being then in the flesh like others, He was crucified, but not for the like sins. For He was not led to death for covetousness, since He was a Teacher of poverty; nor was He condemned for concupiscence, for He Himself says plainly, Whosoever shall look upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already (Mt 5:28); not for smiting or striking hastily, for He turned the other cheek also to the smiter; not for despising the Law, for He was the fulfiller of the Law; not for reviling a prophet, for it was Himself who was proclaimed by the Prophets; not for defrauding any of their hire, for He ministered without reward and freely; not for sinning in words, or deeds, or thoughts, He who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not (1 Pet 2:22-23); who came to His passion, not unwillingly, but willing; yea, if any dissuading Him say even now, Be it far from You, Lord, He will say again, Get behind Me, Satan (Mt 16:22-23) .

And would you be persuaded that He came to His passion willingly? Others, who foreknow it not, die unwillingly; but He spoke before of His passion: Behold, the Son of man is betrayed to be crucified. But do you know wherefore this Friend of man shunned not death? It was lest the whole world should perish in its sins. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed, and shall be crucified ; and again, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem (Lk 9:5). And would you know certainly, that the Cross is a glory to Jesus? Hear His own words, not mine. Judas had become ungrateful to the Master of the house, and was about to betray Him. Having but just now gone forth from the table, and drunk His cup of blessing, in return for that drought of salvation he sought to shed righteous blood. He who did eat of His bread, was lifting up his heel against Him ; his hands were but lately receiving the blessed gifts , and presently for the wages of betrayal he was plotting His death. And being reproved, and having heard that word, You have said (Mt 26:25), he again went out: then said Jesus, The hour has come, that the Son of man should be glorified (Jn 12:23). Do you see how He knew the Cross to be His proper glory? What then, is Esaias not ashamed of being sawn asunder , and shall Christ be ashamed of dying for the world? Now is the Son of man glorified (Jn 13:31). Not that He was without glory before: for He was glorified with the glory which was before the foundation of the world. He was ever glorified as God; but now He was to be glorified in wearing the Crown of His patience. He gave not up His life by compulsion, nor was He put to death by murderous violence, but of His own accord. Hear what He says: I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again : I yield it of My own choice to My enemies; for unless I chose, this could not be. He came therefore of His own set purpose to His passion, rejoicing in His noble deed, smiling at the crown, cheered by the salvation of mankind; not ashamed of the Cross, for it was to save the world. For it was no common man who suffered, but God in man’s nature, striving for the prize of His patience.

“I confess the Cross, because I know of the Resurrection!” A sermon fit to grace an Evangelical pulpit, and yet this was the 4th-century Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
steeped in liturgy, which heard the Scriptures boldly proclaimed to them by a bishop who braved banishment in defending the truth that Christ is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, consubstantial with the Father.”

Go figure….


On Passion Sunday

Deo omnis gloria!

Photo credit: Mount of Olives by Yair Haklai