Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Of Nuns, Tourism, and the Paschal Mystery

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
Let’s move off from Pope Francis for a few days—it being Holy Week—and look to, well, Holy Week.  We can come back to Francis after Easter, and I have not forgotten my series on the Church of England that we had begun before Pope Benedict threw the Catholic world into an uproar with his historic resignation.   But there is time for all that later.  Holy Week
needs to take some precedence. 
When we look at the history of Holy Week—which is what we are about to do—we depend on the writings of a fourth-century nun, Aegeria Sylvia, (sometimes spelt Egeria, sometimes Etheria, and sometimes just called Sylvia.  Aegeria Sylvia made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the early 380’s and wrote an account of it to send back to her sisters.  It is not clear where her monastery was located nor is her own nationality known with certainty other than being from the Gallic regions of what today would be South-western France or North-western Spain.  We first hear about her from Valerio of Bierzo, a seventh century Galician monk (Galicia is the north-west corner of Spain) and so refer to Aegeria as “Spanish” but “Spanish is an anachronism and the three hundred years between Aegeria and Valerio is a monitum against presuming her to be known to Valerio because they were from the same locale.  She wrote in a declining Latin that is already showing some signs of breaking down into one or another of the today’s romance languages.   And it gives us one of the earliest instances of a woman engaging in the production of literature.
Aegeria’s account does not today survive in full—at least in any known manuscript.  The surviving portion of her account opens with her visiting Mount Sinai, continues through the Holy Places of Syria-Palestine, and concludes with her visit to Constantinople.  She visits extensively throughout the mid-east, going as far as what is today Iraq to visit shrines at Edessa and Haran. 
Aegeria gives a very thorough account of the liturgical customs of the Jerusalem Church.  it is obvious that she stayed in Jerusalem a considerable period of time and was there for the feast of the Epiphany, as well as Lent and Holy Week. 
Many of our Catholic liturgical traditions originate in the Jerusalem Church of the fourth century rather than from the Roman Church.  In other words, Rome borrowed Jerusalem customs—as did the Churches of Constantinople, Antioch, and Alexandria.  The  “liturgical year” originated at Jerusalem as the Bishop of Jerusalem, his clergy and his people would gather at the various sites mentioned in the Gospel—Bethlehem, Bethany, Mount Zion, the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, etc. to relive the experience of Christ and his disciples by reading the appropriate gospel stories, offering prayers, hymns, and psalms, and celebrating the Eucharist on the various spots.  Pilgrimage groups in Jerusalem and the Holy Land do the same today.  Their faith was a living and vibrant appropriation of the Gospel—a walking through the Gospels as it were—that made them examine themselves for faithfulness to the life and teaching of Jesus.   
As we go through the ceremonies of Holy Week we need to ask ourselves if they are mere rituals or if they are experiences of touching for ourselves the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of the One whom we recognize to be the Christ of God. 

No comments:

Post a Comment