04 August 2011

An evening with Equestrian Order

Last evening, His Excellency Bishop Paprocki celebrated the Holy Mass with the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem at the annual gathering of the Knights of Ladies living within the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

Eighteen Knights and Ladies - of whom four are priests and one a deacon (the Bishop, too, is a Knight) were present for Mass to pray for the needs of the Holy Land the repose of His Excellency the Most Reverend Pietro Sambi, formerly not only Apostolic Nuncio to the United States but also Apostolic Nuncio to Israel.

They are, for the most part, a quiet and small group whose works and purpose are little known by the faithful as a whole.

The Equestrian Order has its chief tasks the following purposes stated in the Constitution of 1977:
  1. To strengthen in its members the practice of Christian life, in absolute fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff and according to the teachings of the Church, observing as its foundation the principles of charity of which the Order is a fundamental means for assistance to the Holy Land.
  2. To sustain and aid the charitable, cultural, and social works and institutions of the Holy Land, particularly those of and in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem with which the Order maintains traditional ties.
  3. To support the preservation and propagation of the faith in those lands, interesting in this work the Catholics scattered through the world, united in charity by the symbol of the Order, and also all brother Christians.
  4. To sustain the rights of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
To this end, Bishop Paprocki told the Knights and Ladies:
Membership in our Order should, in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, "make you feel more and more the burden and responsibility of distinguishing your toil with an exemplary Christian life with consistent and generous adherence to Christ and to the Church.  In this say," the Pope said, "you will give before the world the best confirmation of the reason for its existence and activity."  I, too, urge you to distinguish yourselves in this way so that more men and women might be added to our Equestrian Order.

As our membership increases, so, too, will our holiness and our ability to help foster the faith of Jesus Christ in the Holy Land and to lend our prayers and financial support to our often persecuted brothers and sisters living in Jerusalem and the surrounding environs.
The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is the only Order of Chivalry under the protection of the Holy See, with membership in the Order being the highest papal honor bestowed on both laity and clergy.

The Order has its origins in A.D. 1099 when it was established by Duke Godfrey de Bouillon - one of the Nine Worthies known the medievals, among whom was King Arthur - who gathered together knights who were willing to give their lives defending the newly recovered Holy Sepulchre, the tomb in which the crucified body of Jesus Christ was laid to rest.  The Holy Sepulchre was recovered through Godfrey's distinguished and capable leadership and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established.  When he established the Kingdom, Godfrey refused to be made King of Jerusalem because he did want to crowned with the gold in the city where Christ was crowned with thornes.  Godfrey's successors, beginning with his brother Baldwin, did not feel the same.

The new Order received Papal approval in 1113 from Pope Pascal II and was reorganized in 1847 by Pope Pius IX.

For the symbol of the Order, Godfrey chose his own insignia, the Red Cross of the Five Wounds of Christ, more commonly known as the Jerusalem Cross:

When used by Godfrey, the crosses were gold but for the Order they were changed to red.

In the early years of the Order, the Knights took the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience and wore white robes marked with the Red Cross of the Five Wounds of Christ.  The knights also followed a Rule.

Curiously, one might say the Order was "ahead of its time" when in 1888 Pope Leo XIII allowed women to be admitted to the Order as Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre.  Doyle says of this permission: "This was not to be a 'ladies auxiliary,' but women were to be admitted to all degrees of rank on the same basis as men and to wear the insignia of those degrees."  This bit of historical trivia might be helpful when someone says the Church is always trying to suppress women.

The Order celebrates four patronal feast days throughout the year: the feast of Saint Helena on August 18th; the feast of Pope Saint Pius X on August 21st; the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th; and the feast of Our Lady of Palestine on the last Sunday of October.

Members of the Order are moved by a profound love of the Cross of Jesus Cross and by a deep concern for the Holy Land, both its places and its people.  As William J. Doyle, Knight Grand Cross, has written, "membership in this Order entails a personal, solemn commitment to an active apostolate, namely, the fostering and support of a viable, vigorous Christian Presence in the Holy Land."

It has been said that the head or the Order is in Rome, but the heart of the Order is in Jerusalem.

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