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Holy Week in the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Week in the Holy Sepulchre

April 4th, 2012

In a letter dated 21 March, 2012 and published on the website of the Custody of the Holy Land, the Custos, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa informed the friars and all interested persons that the Holy See has approved the texts for the liturgical celebrations for Holy Week at the Holy Sepulchre (Letter of Cardinal T. Bertone of 11 October, 2011).

We take advantage of the occasion to make a brief presentation of the long road travelled to reach the desired goal, and the characteristics of the celebrations that will now apply.

To understand the engagement involved in this work, it is worthwhile to recall that the Custody of the Holy Land has always had the honor and obligation of promoting dignified celebration of the divine mysteries in accordance with the laws of the Church in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. According to the authoritative word of Paul VI, pilgrim in the Holy Land in 1964, one of the Franciscans' tasks is to promote "perpetual worship in the name of the Catholic Church" in the Sanctuaries of the Redemption. The Holy Father John Paul II, on the occasion of the 650th anniversary entrusting guardianship of the Holy Places to the sons of Saint Francis, recalled: "The Franciscans have never interrupted their beneficial presence, no few difficulties notwithstanding, generously being engaged in in the conservation of ancient memories, the construction of new Sanctuaries, animating the liturgy, and receiving pilgrims".

For a long time, the Custody of the Holy Land has been desirous of fully introducing the liturgical reform enacted by the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council into the Holy Sepulchre. In fact, there has been more than slight uneasiness on the part of the Franciscans, diocesan clergy, local Christians and pilgrims in view of the fact that the very solemn and evocative celebrations of Holy Week in Jerusalem still followed the old rite. Finally, in 1997, the project of reforming the Holy Week celebrations in the Holy Sepulchre, prepared with great care in the preceding years, was able to be applied with the Holy See's "ad experimentum" approval for a period of five years.

In 2008, the experience was evaluated, completing the celebrations with the Wednesday Office and proceeding to the unification of all the Offices. Of course, the situation is not yet ideal, because of the "Status Quo" that must maintain the time schedules from before Vatican II, but the result is not insignificant. It is necessary to recall, in fact, that in the Holy Sepulchre, besides the Latins, there are also Greeks, Armenians, Copts and Syrians officiating. Any change must take all the Communities into account. This explains the formula "Status Quo continuing" used by the Holy See in the approval.

These celebrations that the Holy See has approved after mature reflection follow the venerable Latin liturgy, to which the Franciscans feel attached by the will of Saint Francis, and together accept various elements of the rich liturgical tradition of Jerusalem that is conserved.

Many are the people who collaborated at various times and in various ways in the renewal of the Holy Week Liturgy in the Holy Sepulchre. Aside from the friars of Saint Saviour's Monastery and of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Father Tarcisio Colombotti OFM and Father Joan Maria Canals Casas CMF are remembered.

Enrique Bermejo Cabrera OFM

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