Lectionary #37 and 38
As I prepared the texts and prayers for the mass of Palm Sunday something caught my attention for the first time, something which I think speaks to the entire mystery of sin and salvation that unfolds before us during Holy Week. What attracted my attention was not so much a particular passage of the gospels or the other scripture readings from mass as it was that part of the Palm Sunday liturgy which often passes with little or no reflection on my part: the procession after the blessing of the palms and the antiphons that accompany it.
Processions and other ritual actions are critically important elements of our worship; they are gestures which teach us and carry powerful sacramental meaning as we actually do things that call to mind the economy of revelation and salvation that is vividly remembered and lived during Holy Week.
If we think about it, beginning on Palm Sunday and extending through Holy Week the Church practices certain ritual actions which are not experienced otherwise through the year. The processions into the church buildings themselves on Palm Sunday and at the Easter Vigil; the moving rite of the mandatum and the washing of the feet—something so striking that it wins the rapt attention of the congregation whenever it is performed—and at the same Holy Thursday mass we take part in the procession to repose the Eucharist at the end of the liturgy.
Going further, on Good Friday the celebrant lies prostrate in front of the entire congregation in an extraordinary gesture of humility and compunction. On Holy Saturday we do much ritually by doing nothing—at least by celebrating no mass, by praying a reduced divine office, and by waiting for the Lord’s resurrection in silence and introspection. On Easter Sunday the renewal of baptismal promises and the rite of blessing with holy water, while not restricted to those occasions, acquire special significance.
As I thought about the scene of the first Palm Sunday then, my vision was shaped not only by the scriptures but by our re-enacting of them through the liturgy. This scene involves above all a journey, beginning with joy and acclamation on Passion Sunday, sounding the depths of human betrayal and treachery on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, enduring the stunned silence of Holy Saturday, and ending with exultation on Easter morning.
The Palm Sunday procession thus teaches us that we are all on a journey, not simply one which takes us through the days of Holy Week, but which wends its way through our entire lives. This procession that commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem also carries with it a decisive lesson about how our participation in this journey may ultimately end, with our reception of the gifts of redemption and Paschal joy or our refusal of them.
As we begin Holy Week, let us not forget that we are a pilgrim people, making our journey of faith in this life by walking together, not only with the Jewish people who ran out to greet the Lord as he entered Jerusalem, but with the children of God of all nations and all ages—ultimately tracing the footsteps of Jesus himself, who humbled himself to share in our humanity, that we might share in his divinity, and might follow him into his Kingdom.
Together with our forebears in Jerusalem some twenty centuries ago, moved by the same trials and sustained by the same faith, we cry out: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest”!
Father Edward M. Mazich, O.S.B.