Postcard from the Paschal Triduum

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:

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