The Franciscan devotion to Jesus, the Word of God made man, and to the places sanctified by his passage produced a style of prayer that arose from the desire to conform to the image of the poor and crucified Christ. The celebration of the events of Jesus’ life materializes in the Holy Eucharist. The celebration of the votive mass of the Holy Eucharist in Capernaum represents a concrete proof of the devotion of the sons of Francis to Jesus, present in his body and blood. In the Holy Land there in fact exists a very close relationship between history and archaeology, between devotion and liturgy, so strong as to be capable of serving as the foundation stones of the spiritual tradition.
It was the first century Christians who identified the Holy Places, those places in the Middle East that had had the honor of welcoming the passage of the only-begotten Son of God, of his Holy Mother, of the Apostles, and of witnessing the events of the Old Testament. The Holy Places are the witnesses that speak in a concrete manner of the historic events that proclaimed the Word of God. Beginning in the fourth century AD, large basilicas arose throughout the Christian world at the sites of the tombs of the martyrs. In the Holy Land, it is geography that testifies to the presence of Christ: the churches of the Holy Land, the Martyria, are thus reliquaries for preserving not bones, but rather those portions of the Earth that bore the imprint of the passage of the God made man.
The constant celebration throughout the centuries in all of the Holy Places of the mysteries of Christ has produced both written and handed down practices of prayer and veneration in these Holy Places that have come to represent a liturgical and devotional heritage. This has not occurred, however, in respect to Peter’s house and the synagogue in Capernaum since, as a result of the degraded condition of the village of Capernaum, there was no continuing tradition of worship at the site. Following the arrival of the friars to the Holy Land in the 13th century, the first seeds of a rediscovered and recovered tradition were planted, as they began to go to this Holy Place in order to venerate the house of the Apostle Peter and the synagogue. The first celebrations in the ruins of Capernaum, attested to in the 15th century, took the simple form of the prayer Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory for gaining an indulgence. Later, in the 17th century, the reading of the Gospel (John 6:24-59) was added. After the sanctuary of Capernaum was acquired in 1890, the friars began to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the synagogue. Today, two solemn events are celebrated: the feast of the Holy Eucharist and that of St. Peter the Apostle. In addition, two pilgrimages are carried out, one during the Octave of Pentecost and the other during the Octave of Corpus Christi.
It is lovely to recall how, in the collect prayer dedicated to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Capernaum, the Church calls on the faithful to be worthy of participating in the Bread of Life, calls on them to have the faith to welcome the gift of the Body of Christ, calls for hope in eternal life, calls for the charity to conform themselves to Christ in their individual donations to the friars. In the prayers, God is acknowledged to be the source of all good, and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to be the greatest gift for man. Participation in the Bread of Life is also requested of God so that it may be a source of life for others. Participation in love must build brotherhood among men. The prayers stress that the force to implement this charity represented by brotherhood must have its source in the word of eternal life and in the communion with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Jesus is the True Bread of Life
The True Bread of Life