The feast-day of St Francis of Assisi was celebrated by the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land with the eternal life as its leitmotif. This is expressed well by the ritual of the Lucernary, at the end of the First Vespers of the feast-day, on the evening of 3 October: the church remains in the dark during the reading of the “Transitus of St Francis,” the piece, taken from the Franciscan Sources which relates the last moments of the saint’s life. When the account speaks of the soul of Francis rising to God, everything is lit up once again. “What we seek in our existence is a full (that is, happy) and eternal life,” said the Custos of the Holy Land, fra Francesco Patton, in his homily. St Francis teaches us that we prepare ourselves for a full and eternal life through a series of Easter perspectives.” 4 October is the day of the Solemn Mass. In the afternoon, the Second Vespers bring the celebrations of the feast-day to a close.
This year a new altar in honour of St Francis has been installed. In place of the traditional statue of the saint, a fully-fledged triptych has been constructed. The Transitus is depicted in the centre. The six panels at the sides show some episodes from the life of St Francis: the appearance in a dream to Pope Honorius; the presentation of the Rule to the Pope; the contemplation of the Nativity scene in Greccio, the homily before the Pope, the apparition at the chapter of Arles and the gift of the stigmata. The images are reproductions from the cycle of the Panels of the cupboard in the sacristy of Santa Croce (Florence), most of which today are in the Gallery of the Academy.
The Transitus: towards eternal life
The celebration of 3 October recalls the transit of St Francis, or his passage from the earthly life to eternal life, which took place in the night between 3 and 4 October 1226. “Welcome sister death, for me it will be the door of life” were the words of St Francis before the tears of the friars that evening. In Jerusalem, the Franciscans of the Custody, together with other religious and faithful, gathered in St Saviour’s church. The celebration included the signing of the First vespers with the reading of the “Transitus of St Francis” and the ritual of the Lucernary.
Renewal of vows
During the celebration of the Transitus, 42 young Franciscans (including 17 of the Custody) renewed their vows for another year. They are friars who have made the first profession and are in the period of formation – from 4 to 9 years - before the solemn profession. The Custos addressed them in particular, underscoring the Paschal perspective of the commitment to live in obedience, without any possessions of their own and in chastity, following the example of St Francis of Assisi: “Brethren, you who today are renewing your vows for a year, seek to have a more ample and more lasting perspective, seek to have the perspective of eternal life.”
The Solemn Mass
On 4 October, the feast-day of St Francis, the Solemn Mass is celebrated in St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem. According to tradition, the liturgy was presided over by a Dominican priest, the prior of the St Stephen's priory in Jerusalem, Fr. Martin Staszak – the same happens with the roles reversed for the feast-day of St Dominic.
The homily by fra Anthony Giambrone, deputy director of the Ecole biblique et archéologique of Jerusalem, stressed the extreme simplicity of Francis’s heart: “We hear this wonderful phrase - "The Lord gave me" – repeated with the samesimplicity three times in the short Testament by Francis. It reveals the perception of he who knows perfectly his perfect poverty in front of God, who knows that everything is grace and gift. The whole of the Franciscan charisma, seems. Is engraved in this sequence of gifts of grace and revelation of the Gospel that God made to St Francis.”
The homage of the authorities
Various authorities were present and were thanked by the Custos of the Holy Land at the end of the Mass. The diplomatic representatives includes the Consul Generals of France, Nicholas Kassianides, and of Greece, Dimitrios Angelosopoulos; the Deputy Consuls of Italy, Alessandro Tutino, Spain, Ignacio Sánchez Taboada, and Belgium, Leen Verstraelen. The religious authorities included the apostolic delegate for Jerusalem and Palestine, Mons. Adolfo Tito Yllana and mons. Giacinto Marcuzzo, auxiliary bishop emeritus of Jerusalem and the Syriac-Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, Yacoub Afram Samaan, to whom the Custos extended his condolences for the death of so many faithful in the recent fire in Qaraqosh (Iraq). Representatives of the Catholic Churches of the Melkite and Maronite rites were also present.