Reflection: The Burial of Jesus

Edward Flanagan, OFM Features

The burial of Christ

“The Burial of Christ” by Carl Bloch

As Holy Week progresses, a friar at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, explains the meaning behind an annual event that will happen on Friday. He also describes how the more than 100-year-old monastery — home to 20 friars from eight OFM provinces and 10 student priests — serves the community.

WASHINGTON — On Good Friday night during this Holy Week, our former Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, will preach at a para-liturgical service at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land. The service is a solemn reenactment of The Burial of Christ and is very similar to the ceremony reenacted each year on Good Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The friars and their loyal associates process through the church with a figure of the Lord after his body has been removed from the cross at the Altar of Calvary. The choir sings the lamentations of Jeremiah, the Fourth Servant Song of Isaiah service earlier in the afternoon. Friars of Holy Name Province will recall walking up the side driveway from the original Holy Name College to sing at the reenactment of the Burial of Christ.

At the conclusion of the procession, the “body” is placed on the anointing stone and, with measured solemnity, is lavishly incensed and anointed. The Knights of Mount St. Sepulchre then take the body into the Sepulchre itself and, as they leave, dramatically bang the door shut — to be reopened on the “third day.” It is interesting to note that the height of the altar of Calvary is exactly the same as the original hill itself — and that the distance from the Altar (Hill) of Calvary to the Tomb of the Lord is exactly the same as it is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Sign of the Church Universal
The ceremony is very similar to that which has occurred in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for hundreds of years — perhaps even as far back as 1342 when Pope Clement VI gave the care of the Holy Land to the Order of Friars Minor. He did so mainly by reason of the devotion of Our Holy Father St. Francis to the land where Jesus’ feet walked from infancy to early adult manhood — feet eventually and sacrificially nailed to a cross on our behalf. All is under the watchful eye of the other Christian communities to ensure that all the requirements of the “Status Quo” are strictly observed — protocols established by the Ottoman Turks in 1757 and renewed in 1853 for good order among the communities, though “good” order was not always observed, as history sadly testifies.

The service at our Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land is the conclusion of Good Friday — which begins with the outdoor Stations of the Cross in the monastery gardens, immediately followed by the Good Friday liturgical service. Within the hour, pilgrims enter the church, which has a folding chair in every nook and cranny, since the service is perhaps the best attended, not only during Holy Week but also during the entire year. The devout people present are truly a sign of the Church universal with faithful of every continent and culture in attendance — with testimony to their faith that the Lord emptied himself on behalf of all and so received the Name that is above every other name.

A Place of Pilgrimage
At the present time, almost every province in the United States has a friar assigned to the monastery. It might be said that the friar community is a preview of coming attractions to the process of consolidation now in progress in the United States. They are present in addition, of course, to the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land. They have been here since 1899, when our visionary brother Fr. Godfrey Schilling, OFM, built this imposing edifice where many priests of our province were ordained.

The Church of the Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington remains a place of pilgrimage for people of faith as well as people who are searching for meaning in their lives. While the monastery’s main purpose is the support of the Holy Land itself — spiritually and financially — especially of the Palestinian Christians, it also serves the faithful of the Washington area in much the same way as St. Francis Church in New York City and St. Anthony Shrine in Boston do — with the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, as well as adult education and traditional devotions. Many visitors also come to stay in our hermitage.

The friars of our Holy Name Province are ever and always welcome here. Come and visit. Better still, visit Jerusalem.

edward-flanagan— Fr. Edward, a native of Washington, has been on the monastery staff for seven years and has been involved in sacramental ministry and adult education. Previously, he was a member of the Ministry of the Word for 20 years, preaching parish missions in the southeast region of the United States.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. The previous reflection, about St. Patrick’s Day, was written by John Anglin, OFM