I was on pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the past 10 days or so. I share here about some liturgical moments during the pilgrimage.
The trip featured a visit to the Jordan River, along which John the Baptist preached and ministered. One of the pilgrims in our group was baptized there by a priest in the group. As the two of them entered the river to select a spot for the baptism, the priest slipped and fell. The candidate for baptism reached out to him and helped him right himself. I was struck in that moment by the symbolism: one who was not yet fully incorporated into the church extended help and evangelistic witness to one who was fully incorporated. I was reminded of Aidan Kavanagh’s oft-repeated lines about how those in the RCIA program provide witness to those who have been baptized.
At the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes in Tagba, our group sang and prayed as we broke (non-consecrated) bread and shared it among ourselves. We had more bread than we needed, so members of the group broke off pieces to share with others in the church. I heard cries of “Grazie!” “Gracias!” “Merci!”. I was struck in that moment by how the symbol of breaking and sharing bread crossed linguistic lines. Notionally, I had long understood that the sharing of food has cross-cultural significance. Never had I experienced it with such clarity.
At the Wedding Church in Cana, our group had booked a time slot in one of the worship spaces. When we arrived, a group from Africa (I do not know which specific nation) was in that space and running over time. We waited. As the group filed out of the worship space, they sang in Swahili, clapping and dancing in procession. Members of my group (and of other groups there), who had no knowledge at all of Swahili, laughed, smiled, and clapped along, sharing in the joy and exuberance. I was struck in that moment by the affirmation offered to the singers by those who knew only that the singers were praising God.
Some of the members of our group were deaf and deaf-blind. Accordingly, we had American Sign Language interpreters with us. Many times we accompanied our singing with ASL gestures or by gestures based on ASL. On several occasions, pilgrims who were not a part of our group stopped to watch what we were doing . . . and then joined in the gestures. At least some of those who joined in the gestures did not know English and thus did not grasp the lyrics we were singing. I was struck in those moments by the affirmation offered to our group by these others who knew only that we were praising God.
We celebrated Mass in the Basilica of the Agony. At this Mass, I was one of the ministers offering the Precious Blood to our group. I was struck in that moment by the fact that I was engaged in this ministry in the place traditionally identified as the place where Luke records that Jesus sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44) on the eve of his shedding of blood the next day.
A candidate for baptism does not need to be in the Jordan River to provide gospel witness to the church. One does not need to be in the Church of the Multiplication or in the Wedding Church to offer or receive affirmation and gestures of solidarity. One does not need to be in the Basilica of the Agony to know the awe of offering the consecrated species to fellow believers. For me, however, these experiences in the Holy Land were crystallizations of things I thought I knew but which I now know more deeply.