Holy Week in the Land of Jesus starts in the shrine of friendship, Bethany, the city of Lazarus, Mary and Marta and where they tended to and experienced the deep bond of friendship with Jesus. It was in Bethany, on Monday 29 March, that the mass of blessing the oils, the aromas and the spikenard was celebrated. These will be used on Good Friday at the Holy Sepulchre and in the parishes during the traditional funeral procession in memory of three events: how Mary perfumed Jesus, when he was still alive, in Bethany, the honour paid to Jesus dead by Joseph of Arimathea, and the intention of the three women who brought the aromas to the empty tomb, after the resurrection.
"This is the place where the fragrance of Easter, which is the perfume of eternal life, dissolves the bad smell of death,” said Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land during his commentary on the Gospel. "It is the place where the warmth of friendship contrasts the climate of hostility. It is the place where the gratuitousness of love which is given unmasks the economic logic of self-interested love.”
The celebration was presided by Fr. Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land, who focused his homily on the fragrance of Easter. " At the beginning of Holy Week,” the Custos said in his homily, "Here in Bethany another smell begins to be diffused, not the bad and acrid smell of death, but the good and perfumed one of life. It is a fragrance that is so rich, so abundant and so diffusive that here it can fill the whole house of the friends of Jesus.
The fragrance of the resurrection, six days later, will mark the start of a new world and will be a perfume that can fill the whole of the created, the universe and our history.”
"A few days before his Easter, Jesus decided to come here, to return to a place that he felt was Home,” the Superior of the Shrine of Bethany, Fr. Michael Sarqah, said. "His presence here is always told as a festive moment for him, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. This is why before the Passion we remember the episode in which Mary used spikenard oil to wash the feet of Jesus, the symbol of profound goodness."
Bethany, al-Azariya in Arabic, is an important place from several points of view, but above all for the presence of the Tomb of Lazarus. We find a testimony of this place from as early as the diary of the pilgrim of Bordeaux of 333AD, who mentions the crypt in which Lazarus was laid to rest, then returned to life, and in the writings of the pilgrim Egeria who speaks of liturgical celebrations inside the Lazarium. Today Bethany is a small town full of small shops, which is wagering on the resources of tourism thanks to the projects of ATS and the Mosaic Centre, supported by the Italian Agency for Cooperation.
"They also call it the house of friendship and it really is,” the Superior, Fr. Michael continued. “During this period of the pandemic, in spite of everything, several people continued visiting the church, both Christians but above all Muslims, who form the majority of the people living in this area: we have never felt alone."