Saturday 5th July 2014
Last night I had a farewell meal with an Irish Columban confrere, Jim Fleming. We had gone to Pakistan together 35 years ago. In recent years he has been working in Britain. Like myself, he too is at present on sabbatical. Providentially, we were both doing the Ecce Homo Biblical Formation Programme together. It was good to have confrere as part of the group. He left this morning for Rome where he will be a pilgrim/tourist for a few days.
This morning, despite a couple of late nights composing posts for the blog, I got up early (just after 5.00am!!) and went out. The streets were deserted. At this hour very few are out and about. Also, it is Ramadan, so Muslims, having finished their breakfast before sun-up, would be inside starting their fast for the day. Maybe the current Israeli-Palestinian tension is a third factor. There were shots fired during the night. But all was quiet and peaceful as I made my way up the deserted Via Dolorosa.
I went to the Holy Sepulchre, made my way to the sacristy, and asked if it was possible to celebrate the Eucharist. Normally, bookings are required, but I have heard of priests availing of vacant half-hour spots. We had been scheduled for Mass at Calvary once before, but due to a bureaucratic mix-up our booking was lost, so we settled for attending a Mass celebrated by another priest. The Franciscan on duty this morning checked the time and said I could say a Mass on Calvary, but would have to be mindful of the time as it was already 5 minutes past the hour. I vested, was given chalice, paten, bread and wine, and made my way to Calvary. About 6 others availed of the opportunity and became the congregation.
I offered the Eucharist for my family, friends, relatives, confreres and colleagues. I remembered the deceased – family members, particularly my brother John, my parents, my uncles and aunts, grandparents and ancestors. I remembered the living – my siblings, the next generations, Kit, Carmel and Matt from the previous generation, and many others besides. So if you’re reading this, you were included!!!
I was strangely unmoved by the experience. I am sure it was partly tiredness, a few nights of short sleep. But certainly celebrating the Eucharist on the place where Christ died is a great privilege. However, we live by faith, not be feelings, so it is something I will cherish. I hope it will touch your lives too.
Adjacent to the altar where I celebrated is the alter of the crucifixion, the actual place where Jesus is said to have been crucified. This “belongs” to the Greek Orthodox Church, so Latin/Roman Catholics cannot celebrate the Eucharist there!
The silver pattern on the floor underneath the altar has a hold in it which is said to mark the place where the upright of the crucifix was inserted.
I spent some time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in thanksgiving and wandering around the different altars and seeing the different services and personal devotions going on. Then I made my way back to Ecce Homo. The streets had been deserted when I left Ecco Homo in the early morning, but now, just after 8.00 am, the first groups of pilgrims were starting to do the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa.
For more information on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre see:
Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!