POPE CELEBRATES MASS AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE
March 26 (EWTnews) Today Pope John Paul II concluded his pilgrimage to the
Holy Land by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Shrine that
commemorates the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was preceded by a
special rite where the Holy Father was received by representatives of the three religious
communities: Franciscan, Greek and Armenian. The Custos of the Holy Land then invited him
to pause in prayer before the Stone of the Anointing, the place where Jesus was prepared
for burial. He was accompanied by the chant of the Te Deum to the empty Tomb of the
Resurrection, where the Holy Father kissed the tomb and knelt in silent prayer.
The Mass opened with the singing of the Hymn "Lauda Jerusalemc
Dominun" and the Pope, together with all the concelebrants dressed in violet
vestments (Sunday of Lent), moved to the space in front of the tomb where a makeshift
altar was placed. His Holiness introduced the Eucharist by emphasizing once more that he
had so much desired to be at this most holy site of Christianity in the footsteps of
Christ. The penitential service followed and the opening prayer was taken from the Sunday
of Lent in which a petition is presented to God for the forgiveness of sin. The first
reading, in Arabic, was taken from Exodus 20:1-17. This was followed by the Responsorial
Psalm "Lord you have words of eternal life" which was sung by the choir. The
second reading, in English, was taken from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians
(1:22-25) while the Gospel was that of John (2:13-25).
In his homily, Pope John Paul II began with words from the
Apostles Creed, "on the third day He rose again". Being at the very place
where this event happened, the Holy Father said:
"Here in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the tomb is empty. It
is a silent witness to the central event of human history: the Resurrection of our Lord
Jesus Christ. For almost two thousand years the empty tomb has borne witness to the
victory of Life over death. The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the sign that the
Eternal Father is faithful to His promise and brings new life out of death."
"Here at the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha, as we renew
our profession of faith in the Risen Lord, can we doubt, that in the power of the Spirit
of Life, we will be given the strength to overcome our divisions and to work together to
build a future of reconciliation, unity and peace?"
In closing, the Pope said, "I urge all of the Churchs
members to renew their obedience to the Lords command to take the Gospel to all the
ends of the earth. At the dawn of a new Millennium, there is great need to proclaim from
the roof tops that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)".
One of the unique features of todays Mass was the uniting of
prayer by all the religious communities gathered. Usually within the Church it is
customary for different religious groups to be praying different prayers at the same time.
Today, however, all were united. The Mass celebrated today followed the Roman Rite of
Catholicism. It is one of the Rites ordinarily celebrated in the Basilica of the Holy
Sepulchre by the Catholic community, along with the Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic and Syrian
Rites. Latin, as the characteristic language of the Roman Rite, was the language of the
celebration. Arabic, the most common language of the Christian population in the Holy
Land, and English was used in the Liturgy of the Word. The intercessions of the Prayer of
the Faithful were recited in Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, French, German and Arabic. The
hymns were sung in Gregorian chant.
This morning prior to Mass, Pope John Paul II touched the stones of
the Western Wall where he prayed and placed a note in its cracks asking for forgiveness.
The note written on Vatican letterhead and signed by John Paul II reads:
"God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring
Your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of
those who in the course of history have caused these children of Yours
to suffer and, asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to
genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant." The Pope also visited the
Temple Mount and met with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Islamic religious leader of