Sunday, February 02, 2014

What I saw where Jesus died and rose

While I had yet more excellent adventures on Saturday and today, I want to return--before memories fade--to our day last Friday.

After Holy Mass at Calvary--albeit a little to the right--and after breakfast, we then visited the traditional site of our Lord's trial before Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, called Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

The front doors of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

The main church on the upper level.
The guide gave reasons why he thought another site, closer to the temple, was more likely: namely, that this was--in our Lord's time--a poor area, and thus an unlikely place for the high priest to live. Yet the traditional site is such because of veneration by early Christians. There is a lesson here: in these matters, no matter what even well informed people tell you, these things are not as cut and dried as they think. Remember that when someone insists that there's no question the book of Isaiah had three authors, or Mark was written before Matthew, or that such-and-such couldn't have (or must have) happened here.

As it is, this site was compelling. The existing church sits on a steep hill. You enter the main church a bit below street level; then you go down, down, with chapels below, with some striking, Eastern-style icons depicting something else that happened here: Peter's denials.

This shows the moment our Lord turned and looked at Peter.

Note the use of colors: red for blood, gold for glory, and black for chaos.

This shows the moment--described in the last chapter of the Gospel of John--when our Lord restored Peter.
Then at the bottom is a pit that goes very deep. (Sorry, no more pictures.) Tradition has it that our Lord was thrown into it, and there spent the night before being taken, early in the morning of Good Friday, before Pontius Pilate.

We walked around the old city a lot, but I'll skip to the afternoon, when around 3 pm, we joined the Franciscans in the Via Crucis, along the Via Dolorosa. When we have the stations of the cross every Friday in Lent, it is this journey we are recreating. (The origin of stations in churches is this: when Christians were prevented from coming to the Holy Land to walk the Lord's walk, the Via Crucis was recreated in parish churches. Although they aren't a required element, it's rare to have a church without them (my Argentinian roommate confirms this is the same in his country).

This pilgrimage has included a lot of walking and climbing, and I was tempted not to join this part of the day. I'm glad I resisted the temptation. The walk along the Via included a good number of pilgrims; the Franciscans prayed in Spanish, English and Italian. (And you can easily understand why the traditional form includes an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be--they cover more ground between stations on site than in our parish churches!) The way was along a tight street, with small shops on both sides, with Arab vendors attempting to make a living--although they were very respectful (no doubt quite familiar with this) as we came by. In fact most were; still, there were a good number of folks who simply wanted to go about their business and didn't take any interest in our ritual; and even a few who hurled insults.

The last several stations take place within the Church itself; and include an arduous climb up extremely steep steps to Calvary. We often refer to Mount Calvary, but the reality is a bit more complicated. Where our Lord died was believed to have been a quarry, situated even so on a hill outside the walls; but as it was a quarry, the crosses themselves might well have been out of view. However, the place where our Lord died was itself a mound of rock "shaped like a skull"--hence the name Calvary.

We completed our Way of the Cross at the sepulcher, of course; and at that point, we were permitted to enter. The tomb itself is a very small space; it's made of stone, and is situated maybe two hundred feet (I'm guessing) from Calvary. Our guide informed us that while in our Lord's time, this would have been in the side of the hill, all the stone around the tomb was taken away to make room for the church; but the tomb itself remains. On top of, and in front of, the tomb, the Greek Orthodox have built a square structure, before which stand gigantic candle stands, some of which now have electric lights instead of living flame. Nevertheless, lots of candles around, and also in the anteroom that stands before the tomb itself. When we were present that morning for Holy Mass, we observed our Greek brethren conducting the sacred liturgy around the tomb. Now they allowed the Catholic pilgrims to venerate.

But priests first! Sorry about this. I don't like this sort of thing, but I don't make the rules, and I didn't want to argue at that point. Does that make me bad? In any case, I was politely shoved in, right behind the other priests, and the antechamber was small enough; then we had a low, tight portal to the tomb itself. Four of us managed to squeeze in, kneel, and kiss the stone on which our Lord's body lay. Mindful, however, of the pilgrims waiting, we did not tarry. (A little known thing: it is possible to reserve times to offer Holy Mass in the tomb itself. Several of us have done so.)

Coming out of the tomb! What an exhilarating thing to do--and say! I might have explained already that nearby was a section of the church controlled by the Catholics, and there an organist added some beautiful music as we completed the journey.

But we weren't finished. The Franciscans have a procession that begins after this, that takes us around the interior of the church. They were on the third station before I realized my brother priests weren't at hand, and I went and found them. Everyone got a candle, and booklets were available in various languages. I grabbed a booklet, only to find out it was in Latin, German, Czech and (I think) Polish. At least I had Latin.

As we went along, the Franciscans led us with beautiful Latin chant. How sad that so many Catholics (at least in our country) loathe and despise this beautiful language and throw such fits over any attempt to include it!

I wanted to keep the booklet, but at the end of our procession--which came in a chapel very near Calvary, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament--one of the Franciscans deftly retrieved it, along with the stub of the candle I still had. But the journey recalled many of the things that happened to our Lord at Calvary. While most of the chant was unfamiliar to me, we did sing the Stabat Mater and Ave Verum. 

After this--feeling even more exhilarated!--we chanced upon yet another group of the faithful making a procession; this time, Armenian Christians. (I'm not clear if they were Catholic or Orthodox.) We found them at the tomb, with a priest at the door, and a deacon behind him, with about 12 young men in cassocks chanting beautifully. I guessed them to be seminarians. We watched and listened as they moved to an image nearby of the Lord's body being taken from the cross; here the priest chanted the Gospel; and afterward, everyone came up and was welcome to kiss the book--and the priest's hands. Some of our group did so, as did I.

I think we finished around 5 pm, after which we headed back to the guest house. As our Protestant brethren might say, "I think we've prayed today, church--can I get an amen?"

1 comment:

truthfinder2 said...

Amen! ;-) ~ Rosemary A.