Holy Week in Jerusalem begins with a solemn Mass and liturgy in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Pilgrims from around the world join with the local faithful in procession with palm branches singing “Hosanna” just as was proclaimed in Scripture (during Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem). This tradition has existed since ancient times, though there have been periods of prohibition. Since 1933, it has been officially allowed once again and is a major celebration for Christians in the Holy Land.
Christians from the Palestinian territories are normally not allowed into Jerusalem, except for very rare instances. Getting a visa to get to Jerusalem is a very long and arduous process. However, during Holy Week, Palestinian Christians have been allowed to come to Jerusalem, which is cause for great joy in the community. Over the past few years, special permits have been granted for the local faithful to celebrate the holiest days of the Church year in the places where they actually occurred.
After the early morning Mass in the Holy Sepulcher, the commemoration of the day continues when the faithful gather at the church in Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives. Bethphage was a small village on the outskirts of ancient Jerusalem where Jesus mounted the donkey His Apostles found there and he began His triumphal entry into the city. Modern processions still begin from the same point, with participants waving palm branches as they walk, pray, sing, and dance their way towards the Lions Gate in the walls of the Old City. Late in the afternoon, the procession passes through the city walls, arriving for a formal blessing at St. Anne’s Church.
While the Lion’s Gate did not exist as such in the days of Jesus, Our Lord did enter the Temple from the east, the significance of which was not lost on the crowds of the day. Jewish tradition holds that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem from the East – like the sun. Jesus rode the donkey through the East Gate of the Temple area and was hailed enthusiastically by the crowds of the time as perhaps they though He was there to usher in His kingdom. Which he was, though not in the way that was expected.
Today, thousands of faithful gather together with the Latin Patriarch and the Custos of the Holy Land to worship and honor Our Lord and remember His triumphal entry in to the city. The joy of this occasion is overshadowed only slightly by the knowledge of the coming somber liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, because the promise and hope of Easter triumphs over all.