For those who have been following events in the Holy Land and the fact that the doors of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre were closed by religious leaders to protest a proposed tax on Church properties by the Israeli government: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre reopened early Wednesday morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became personally involved and stopped measures.

“We, the heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulchre and the status quo governing the various Christian holy sites in Jerusalem – the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the Custodian of the Holy Land and the Armenian Patriarchate – give thanks to God for the statement released earlier today by Prime Minister Netanyahu and offer our gratitude to all those who have worked tirelessly to uphold the Christian presence in Jerusalem and to defend the status quo,” the leaders of the three denominations in charge of the site said in a statement.

Among those urging leaders to reconsider this proposal, citing the potential damage to the Christian populace, was Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher.


Pope Francis’ general audience was originally scheduled to take place today in St. Peter’s Square but, given the frigid temperatures, the faithful were accompanied to both St. Peter’s Basilica, where the Holy Father stopped briefly, greeting people and shaking hands, and then in the Paul VI Hall where the main body of his catechesis took place.

Continuing his weekly general audience catechesis on the Mass, Pope Francis today highlighted the Liturgy of the Eucharist that begins, he said, with the “preparation of the gifts of bread and wine,” a rite that “invites us to present our own lives as a spiritual offering.”

“In our catechesis on the Mass, we now turn from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Following the Lord’s command at the Last Supper to ‘do this in memory of me’, the Church at every Mass makes sacramentally present the sacrifice of the New Covenant sealed by Jesus on the altar of the cross. The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Preparation of the Gifts of bread and wine that will then be consecrated in the Eucharistic Prayer and received by the faithful in Holy Communion.

“The rite of the Preparation of the Gifts invites us to present our own lives as a spiritual offering together with the gifts we bring to the altar. The Prayer that concludes this rite voices our confidence that the Church’s offering will be transformed by the Holy Spirit and become a sacrifice pleasing to the Father, in union with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.”

Francis said that, “through the holy signs, the Church renders ever present the Sacrifice of the new covenant sealed by Jesus on the altar of the Cross. (The Cross) was the first Christian altar, (and) when we approach the altar our memory goes to that first altar. …. The priest, who in the Mass represents Christ, does what the Lord himself did and entrusted to the disciples at the Last Supper: He took the bread and the cup, gave thanks, gave them to the disciples, saying: ‘Take, eat … drink: this is my body … this is the cup of my blood. Do this in memory of me’. Obedient to the command of Jesus, the Church has arranged the Eucharistic Liturgy in moments that correspond to the words and gestures He made on the eve of his Passion.”

“At every Mass,” concluded the Pope, “may we experience the Preparation of the Gifts as an invitation to offer our lives completely to the Lord, in order to receive from him the grace to live ever more fully our vocation to grow in holiness and to serve the coming of his Kingdom.”


In his greetings to pilgrims and visitors from Syria, the Holy Land and the Middle East at the general audience, Pope Francis improvised yet another appeal for what he called that “martyred nation,” saying, “We must pray for these brothers and sisters of ours and for all persecuted Christians, they want to drive them away.”

Although the United Nations Security Council has called for a ceasefire in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach the most affected areas, reports from Syria claim that fighting is continuing despite the truce.