The Double Portion Blessing
Dawn was gently breaking over the city of Jerusalem. Located in the vicinity of our hotel, The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, which is situated on the Via Dolorosa at the bend in the road between the 3rd and 4th Stations of the Cross, I could hear a rooster crowing from a nearby courtyard of one of the ancient stone houses. He was greeting the rising sun and majestically announcing the start of a new day, just as the Lord of creation had ordained from the beginning of the world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth….and God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its Builder’s craft. One day to the next conveys that message; one night to the next imparts that knowledge….. God has pitched there a tent for the sun. It comes forth like a bridegroom from his chamber … from one end of the heavens it comes forth; its course runs through to the other; nothing escapes its heat. (Psalm 19:2-7)
For from the rising of the sun, to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to My name, and a pure offering. For My name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 1:11)
Father Avitus and I had arranged to meet in the lobby of our hotel very early on that special morning, when he would celebrate Mass for just the two of us in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Father Avitus and I are old friends. Father Avitus, who is from Tanzania, had been sent by his African Order, The Apostles of Jesus, to minister to the sick and dying in the nursing homes and hospitals of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where I was living at that time. Within days of his arrival to America, the Lord had arranged for us to meet in a marvelous way. From that moment, the Lord put in my heart the desire to assist Father Avitus in his ministry. I served as a lector, reading the Holy Scriptures, when he said Mass at the nursing homes. Further, for several years now, we have been working together on a medical mission for Tanzania.
After living in Israel for two years, I wanted to share my precious experience of the Holy Land with my dear friend and fellow laborer for the Lord. So, my husband and I, invited Father Avitus during June 2010, to come to Israel for a twelve day visit. I knew that Father Avitus, as a Catholic priest, should celebrate holy Mass daily. Thus, I endeavored to make arrangements through the Latin Patriarchate to reserve a time at the important sacred Christian shrines throughout the country for Father to celebrate Mass every day of his visit. Then I planned to arrange our pilgrimage around the Mass schedule that would be assigned to us. During June, there are many Catholic pilgrim groups from all over the world travelling to Israel. Thus, the priests who lead these pilgrim tours, have set up their mass schedules at these shrines, many months, and even years, before their planned trips.
With such short notice, and considering the few days which we had available to spend in the Old City of Jerusalem during Father’s pilgrimage, I knew that it would be highly improbable that I would be able to reserve any of the many altars inside the holiest of Christian Shrines, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for Father to celebrate Mass. This large and extensive Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the last five Stations of the Cross: 11th, the nailing of Jesus to the Cross, 12th, the Crucifixion, 13th ,the taking down of Jesus’ Body from the Cross, 14th, the Burial of Jesus in the Holy Tomb, and 15th, the Resurrection.
I simply could not believe what I heard when the secretary informed me that she was assigning Father not only to an altar inside the Basilica, but, to the altar at the Tomb of Christ! I was filled with immense joy! I thought, Lord, how gracious You are to give us this most sublime blessing, to receive Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion at the precise place where You rose up from the dead in Your glorified resurrected Body!
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid Him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. (Luke 23:50-54)
And He said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:5)
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. (Mark 16: 1-5)
But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground. They said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but He has been raised. Remember what He said to you while he was still in Galilee that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” And they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8)
With hearts full of joy, Father and I set out through the large iron gate of our hotel, all the while praising God for this new day, for we live in the resurrected life of the Spirit of Christ.
Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; Behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith in the Son of God who has loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit .For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
We made our way along the Via Dolorosa and walked through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Muslim Quarter, which led into the Christian Quarter, until we reached the entrance to the large courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We could see before us, just inside the huge doors, many lamps hanging over the pungent, chrism- drenched, Unction Stone, where Jesus’ Body, after having been taken down from the Cross, was laid and anointed before His burial in the Tomb.
In the center of the Basilica, underneath a large dome, is an area containing two small rooms: the Chapel of the Angel, with an altar containing a piece of the stone which was rolled away by angels at the Resurrection, and, the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher, which contains the Tomb of Christ. A marble slab covers the place where Christ’s body was laid and from which He rose from the dead. A vase with candles marks the spot where His head rested.
Father went into the sacristy to get vested to celebrate Mass. I waited outside the door of the Sacristy for him. It was about 7:30 in the morning, and there were some small pilgrim groups at various altars inside the Basilica, where the priests that accompanied them were saying Mass. I pondered how awesome it was, that in just a few moments, I would be inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher, which was barely big enough for three persons to stand in, all alone with Father Avitus, who would be celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
All of a sudden, a wondrous, generous thought entered my mind, and a deep feeling of bountiful love welled up in my heart. Unexpectedly, I was filled with an intense desire to share Holy Communion with another member of the Body of Christ. I sensed the Holy Spirit was moving in me and prompting this beautiful intention. It must not be only Father and me, together in Christ’s Tomb, who would receive our merciful Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He must be shared in Holy Communion with another one of our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ! Aware of this remarkable prompting, I began praying silently for this desire to be realized, while waiting for Father Avitus to come out of the sacristy.
Fully dressed in pure white vestments, Father came out to me, and we turned towards the Tomb of Christ, to begin our two-person procession into the tiny Chapel. As I turned, I saw a woman, who had not been there before. She looked at me with yearning and pleading eyes, with her arms held up in front of her chest, with her hands pressed together in the prayer position. She did not have to say one word to me, as I completely understood that she desired with all her being to join us at Holy Mass in the Tomb of Christ. My heart leapt for joy as I fully appreciated that the Lord had immediately answered my silent prayer! Further, I truly believe, as Jesus surely would know of the woman’s intense love for Him, and her heart’s desire to receive Him in Holy Communion, He stirred up in my heart, through the Holy Spirit, love, to want to share Holy Mass with her, and even to pray for this to be fulfilled. In every way, I felt the Lord’s Will had been done!
The three of us processed in single file to the Tomb of Christ, where we entered into the Chapel of the Angel, and then passed into the tiny sanctuary of the Holy Sepulcher. Father prepared the altar on the marble slab, which covers the sepulcher, for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. He asked the woman if she spoke English. She shook her head and responded, “no, Italiano.”
Father began the Mass and we lifted up our hearts, minds, and souls, to the Lord with all our strength of love and adoration. The woman responded in Italian, as I responded in English, to Father, as he said the Mass. Even though we came from different countries, Tanzania, America, and Italy, and all spoke different languages, in the Body of Christ, we are one in the Lord.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4: 4-6)
When the time came in the Order of the Mass for Holy Communion to be distributed, we could not “come forward” to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion from Father as the chapel was so tiny. We could only kneel, which we did, and Father held the sacred Host high and stated, “Ann, this is the Body of Christ.” “Amen” I replied with all my faith, and then I received our Lord on my tongue with all the love I had in me. To our astonishment, there was another Host under the first One. Father lifted this second host and placed it in my mouth and so in the Tomb of Christ I received a “double portion” of Holy Communion, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, of the risen Jesus Christ, our Lord!
“But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her.” (1 Samuel 1:5)
Now, the sacristan had been told, that there would be only two persons attending Holy Mass in the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher that morning at 7:30, the priest and me, thus, only two wafers of altar bread were required to be consecrated at Mass. When the sacristan prepared all that was needed for the celebration of the Mass, he did not know that the Italian woman would join with us, and that there would be three persons in the Tomb. Yet, the Lord had prepared everything according to His good pleasure and perfect Will, as we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.( Romans: 8-28)
At the moment Father Avitus distributed Holy Communion, there was not just two hosts but rather three hosts! The Lord provided one for the Italian woman who loved Him so much and two for me for *to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her.” *
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:18-23)
* I am named Ann, which comes from the Hebrew name of Hannah, meaning “favor” or “grace.” As I am writing this account I am suddenly recalling something quite mysterious that happened just last night. While I was lying in bed before falling asleep, for no apparent reason, I contemplated my own name! I do not know why I thought about my name Ann? I was pondering how it came from the Hebrew name of Hannah. I said to myself last night while lying in bed, “I like the name Hannah. I would have liked to have been called Hannah.” Then, just this morning, another mysterious thing happened. I went to my local church and attended the 8 am daily Mass, and the Old Testament scripture verses that were read were 1st Samuel 1:1-9 which include: “But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her” (1 Samuel 1:5). I can only conclude that these two mysterious “coincidences” of last night and this morning and their perfect timing and relation to the writing of this account today are of the Holy Spirit and serve to confirm that this writing is of His inspiration and according to His perfect will. Thank you Lord for all your gracious and abundant blessings!