Solemn Entry into Lent for the Custody Friars

( On March fifth, Ash Wednesday, the Custody of the Holy Land marked the solemn entry into Lent in its parishes. The Lenten time of conversion has begun, forty days that invite believers to a greater inner openness—openness to prayer, but also to sharing and reflection. This Lent is even more intense because this year Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christians will celebrate Easter together. (The next time this happens will be in 2017, and the time after that in 2025.) So it was that on the eighth of March not only the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem made its solemn entry, but also dignitaries of the other churches that are present in the Holy Sepulchre: Greek Orthodox, Copts, Syriacs and Armenians. Received by the sanctuary clergy at the Stone of Anointing, each of them came to make his Lenten visit to the Holy Sepulchre.

The entry reminds us that for several centuries, during the Ottoman occupation, the door to the Holy Sepulchre was kept closed and was only opened to pilgrims who paid for the right to enter the sanctuary. So it was that for the entry of the Franciscans and of Patriarch Fouad, the door was symbolically closed and then re-opened to allow this pilgrim to enter. The bells of the Franciscan monastery were rung in full voice as the patriarch kissed the Stone of Anointment. He then visited the tomb before the Franciscans’ daily procession.

The procession dates to the 14th century, when the Franciscans, already the guardians of the holy places, would meet the pilgrims as they arrived by ship and accompany them from site to site. Until the 18th century, pilgrims made a liturgical pilgrimage. At each site they sang a hymn, a prayer was said, and a biblical passage on the mystery of the site was read, followed by recitation of a Pater Noster, an Ave, and a Gloria. At the Holy Sepulchre, as at other holy places, the rite has been maintained and the friars visit and cense all the altars and chapels of the sanctuary. In the same liturgical continuity, Solemn Matins and Low Mass were said at Calvary during the night between Saturday and Sunday in the presence of the Father Custos.

On Sunday morning, Fra Stéphane presided over mass at the altar of Mary Magdalen, with His Beatitude Mgr. Fouad Twal concelebrating. The Holy Sepulchre echoed with the sound of a thousand voices and bells as the communities prayed, each in its own language at its own place of worship, prayed on the First Sunday of Lent. Charles, a French student, shared: “I find it beautiful. You might think that each group prays in its own corner, but it’s not like that at all.” Fra Stéphane used a metaphor: “During Lent, the Holy Sepulchre is a little like the sun, with many denominational satellites drawn to it.”

Faithful to tradition and the Status Quo, the Franciscans will be the only ones to make their entry to the Holy Sepulchre next Saturday. On the following Saturdays of Lent, the Greek Orthodox and Armenians will follow suit.