Celebrations for the feat of Our Lady of Palestine took place yesterday, October 25th, at the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned. The mass, celebrated by the Grand Prior, H.L. Carmel Zammit, KC*HS, Bishop of Gibraltar, was followed by a drinks reception for members and new candidates. At the reception the Lieutenant, H.E. J Gaggero, KC*HS, addressed the members and candidates present.
The following text is that of the meditation given by the Lieutenant at the reception.
A Meditation on the Feast of our Lady of Palestine
As we, the Knights and Dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre celebrate the Feast of our Lady of Palestine together with those who will be joining our ranks next year, I have been invited to share some thoughts on our Order and on Our Lady of Palestine.
This Order is intrinsically bound to the Holy Sepulchre from which Jesus rose from the dead 3 days after his passion.
At the start of last supper Jesus said: “‘I have longed to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…”. I have often thought that Jesus, the Word of God, had planned for …. had longed for… this Passover from the moment of Adam and Eve’s original sin when he knew that the sin would have to be redeemed.
The Jewish Passover meal follows a very specific structure:
- At the Festival Blessing the 1st cup of wine is drunk;
- At the Passover Narrative and Little Hallel one drinks the 2nd cup of wine.We are all familiar with the words of the consecration:”Take and eat; this is my body.” and…“Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” What’s significant here is that Jesus said this was for ALL of us. It wasn’t just for the Jews, and I’ll say a little more about this later.
- Then comes the Main Meal where one eats the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs and spices after which the 3rd cup of wine – Cup of Blessing is drunk.
- The Passover is completed with the singing of the Great Hallel and drinking the 4th cup of wine, and it is closed when the priest or host says the phrase, “TEL TELESTI” which is interpreted as “IT IS FINISHED” or “IT IS CONSUMATED”.
Jesus never drank the 4th cup at the Last Supper in the upper room.
Instead, he told his disciples “I tell you, from now on I shall not drink the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you anew in the kingdom of my Father.”
But he knew that there was a final cup to be drunk to complete the Passover Meal.
At Gethsemane he prayed: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” … and he repeated this prayer another 2 times as he prayed before his arrest.
When they brought him to Golgotha and before they nailed him to the cross, they offered him wine drugged with myrrh to dull the pain, but he didn’t accept it.
It was only after all had been fulfilled that Jesus said, “I thirst” and it was then that he drank wine from a sponge lifted to him on a hyssop branch.
The hyssop branch was the prescribed way that the Jews had been instructed by Moses to bless the Passover lamb before the first Passover.
When Jesus drank the wine, he drank the 4th Cup and completed the Passover Meal and said, “It is Finished” and bowed his head and died.
It was 3 o’clock, the time that the horn of the temple would sound to tell the people that it was time to slaughter the Passover lamb.
The Passover that had started in the Upper Room was completed on the cross.
As a sign that this new covenant was for everyone, at the moment of his death “…the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
We come back to the words of the consecration where Jesus said that this was for all of us. Over the millennia God had been including more and more people in his covenants:
God’s first covenant was with Adam and Eve – a husband and a wife – and the basic building block in God’s plan for mankind. This was followed by a covenant with Noah – a family; then with Abraham – a tribe; then Moses – a people; then David – a kingdom.
Each time the circle grew, and more people were included into God’s ever closer covenant relationship with man until finally Jesus instituted a “new and everlasting covenant…for you and for all…so that sins may be forgiven.”
It’s odd to throw in a description of a curtain being torn at the moment of Jesus’ death and to specify that it was “torn from top to bottom”, but the author of Mark’s Gospel was making a very specific point. The curtain he was referring to separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Holy of Holies, or Tabernacle, was where God had instructed Moses to place 3 key symbols of God:
1. The tablets of stone on which were written God’s 10 commandments which were contained inside the Ark of the Covenant;
2. The Menorah, which was the lampstand with 7 lamps to be kept lit at all times; and
3. Wine and the Bread of the Presence (in Hebrew “lehem ha pannim” translated literally as “Bread of the Face”), which was 12 cakes of bread prepared by the High Priest each Sabbath.
In these 3 symbols you have the Holy Trinity hidden in the Old Testament! God the Father – represented by the Ark of the Covenant containing the 10 commandments; The Holy Spirit – represented by the Menorah lampstand; and the Son of God, the face of God – the Bread of the Presence and the wine.
Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. On this day he would come out holding the Bread of the Presence and elevate it before the pilgrims to see saying: “behold God’s love for you!”
In 597 BC, just before the Babylonians destroyed the 1st Temple and Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah took the Ark of the Covenant and hid it. It has remained hidden ever since.
At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Ark of the Covenant hadn’t been in the Holy of Holies for about 630 years.
When the earth shook and the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom the lamps on the Menorah would have been extinguished. The Holy Spirit had departed and would return to descend on the apostles in the upper room 40 days later at Pentecost.
The third member of the Holy Trinity was nailed on the cross – the lamb of God – as an everlasting sacrifice in atonement for the sins of the world and to complete God’s plan for an ever closer and more perfect union with Man.
If the High Priest had realized whom he had arranged for Pilate to order crucified, he would have truly been able to say on that Day of Atonement: “Behold God’s love for you!”
And all of this might have been lost to history and myth had it not been what happened on the 3rd day when Jesus rose from the dead from the Holy Sepulchre as he had foretold.
If it had all been a lie, his disciples would have lost faith in him and the life and teaching of Jesus would have been forgotten. But it wasn’t… and it hasn’t.
Our Church has its origins in that Holy Sepulchre – in the risen Christ – to which the mission of this Order is so closely tied – and continues under the care of those who have followed in the footsteps of Peter under the protection of the mother of Jesus, whose feast we celebrate today as Our Lady of Palestine.
She is depicted here in this image given to us by our Cardinal Grand Master cradling the New Jerusalem, the Church.
Our mission, given to us by the Holy Father, is to pray for and support the Holy Land where our Lord was born, lived, died and rose from the dead.
John A Gaggero
24 October 2021, the Feast of Our Lady of Palestine.