Easter Day begins of course, with the Easter Vigil. The Jerusalem Patriarch–for reasons explained in an earlier entry–celebrated the Vigil on Saturday morning. I therefore elected to participate in the Vigil with my Dominican friends at St Stephen’s. The cloister outside the church was full of local French speakers–some French, African and North African. There are a couple of pictures on Twitter. The French have a beautiful approach to the liturgy which I can only describe as “French”. Somehow the beautiful French language and their native natural instinct to take time for the beautiful percolates through the liturgy in a natural way that we “English” have to acquire, and even when we learn it we are somewhat suspicious of it and worry that it “costs too much.”
A little example of this was waking up this morning and going to the refectory for breakfast to find that there were small flower arrangements on the tables. Nice.
I only stayed for the procession and readings at the vigil. It was already late and I had plans to concelebrate Easter morning Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. So I rose at six and remembering the gospel that Mary Magdalene went “when it was still dark” made my own way through the Old City while the sun was rising. I got to the church in plenty of time only be told by the Franciscan in charge that there was to be no concelebration this morning. I stayed for the Holy Mass anyway–and glad I did. The place was packed and it seemed that all the different groups were trying to celebrate their liturgies at the same time. You would not believe the racket. You can get a taste of it in the video I uploaded to Twitter. While our gospel was being read and the Patriarch was attempting to preach, the bells were being rung, Somebody somewhere was beating a drum, monks were chanting, priests were yelling and at one point there was what I can only describe as a banshee shrieking. When I asked another priest what that was he shrugged, “Oh, that’s the Egyptians. It’s Palm Sunday for them.”
While the church was packed with Latin Catholics, various different groups processed through–Africans in colorful tribal dress, black robed and hatted Orthodox priests, Coptic priests with their dark complexions, long beards and odd headgear, a group of Italian pilgrims being pushy. Standing next to me was a sweet little nun from South India, on the other side an Arab Christian man who kept talking to me and ended up giving me an olive wood rosary–a woman from Florida, American college students, a beautiful Italian girl, and just about every other national group under the sun. All saved by grace and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
By the time it came for communion the choir started to sing the Panis Angelicus and I was overwhelmed with emotion. There have been so many graced moments during this time in Jerusalem, but this was the highlight. I was remembering and praying for my little sister who died on Easter Day eight years ago, my Mom who passed a few months ago, my nephew, my Dad and my family and parishioners–missing them all and commending them to God’s care.
I trudged home assisted by new walking stick and took a few moments to rest before joining the Dominican Friars for their main Easter Day Mass. Because I had not celebrated Mass at the Holy Sepulchre I needed to celebrate an Easter Mass, so I joined them and did the best I could with the French.
After Mass a good lunch with the friars. Ali had packed a big jar of chocolates that I kept for Easter and I found a liquor store in Jerusalem and bought a bottle of Bourbon which I contributed to the drinks table the Superior of the community had set up. I announced, “You French have your brandy. We southerners have this stuff…” It went down well–especially with the three American friars who were happy to have a taste of home.
Now after a very “Joyeux Pacques” as they say here, it is time for a nap, a walk and some time to reflect further on this amazing time of grace.