A Night in the Tomb
March 2, 2020
Last night 12 Mundelein seminarians, including myself, spent the entire night locked inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Each night roughly 15 people are allowed to spend the night in the Church praying and contemplating the tomb of our Lord, the site of his crucifixion, and the other chapels and relics of Christ’s life which are spread throughout the interior of the Basilica.
Around five o’clock those of us who were going to spend the night ran off to grab a quick bite to eat of the food of choice that each man thought would best sustain him through the night, and the necessary cup of coffee. From there we hastily made our way to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher arriving a few minutes before the famous ceremony of closing the doors. We entered, stood by the Franciscans, who are the Catholic representative guardians of the holy sites, and watched as a large bearded Greek Orthodox monk slammed the door shut from the inside.
Our vigil began.
One of my brother seminarians led our group in a short prayer asking the Lord to bless our prayers tonight. Like a football team breaking a huddle we headed out across the Basilica to take up our stations of prayer. I first chose the chapel of Saint Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine who visited the Holy Land in the early fourth century and identified the main Christian holy sites. Her chapel is beneath the Basilica down a long set of steps and commemorates the place where she discovered the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. I began there because the Church of the Holy Sepulcher began there, and I have loved the story of this saintly mother since I read Evelyn Waugh’s legendary biography of her a few years ago.
From there I made my way to the chapel of Calvary, the site of the Crucifixion. The stone on which the Cross of our Lord was set is the base of this chapel, and its canopy is a low ceiling on which many scenes of Scripture are painted or set in mosaics. At the site of Jesus’s agony and death I was moved to pray for all those who carry heavy crosses. It struck me that our Lord’s command to ‘Take up your Cross’ is not an invitation to go looking for pain and suffering but rather to invite Him, His Spirit, His Presence to join each of us on the many crosses that we carry.
From Calvary Jesus’s Body went to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea; around ten o’clock my own body crossed the same stretch of earth. My four brother seminarians from the Archdiocese of Dubuque and I went in together to pray in the empty Tomb of Jesus, the Holy Sepulcher. Growing up Holy Saturday always struck me, it was as if the world did not know what to do with itself, it had put God to death. In the Tomb where God laid, I was struck that He is alive. There was a moment in time when the Body of Jesus Christ was re-animated, His eyes flickered open and the world would never be the same again. Outside of the small opening to the tomb is a marble casing around the entrance and at its peak is a small statue of Christ rising from the tomb; He appears to be dancing, as if He rose from the dead with a smile and a jig. I sat leaning against the tomb and prayed that I always preach with joy and profundity the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Archdiocese of Dubuque