The Liturgy of Palm Sunday begins my most favourite time of the Liturgical Year – Holy Week. The whole Church begins Holy Week today, most often with palms in Christians’ hands, and in some areas, with grand processions to commemorate our Lord’s triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this year, many places around the world, the liturgy will not be as elaborate as past years, including the Holy Father’s liturgy of Palm Sunday which will take place at the Altar of the Chair, at St. Peter’s Basilica with empty pews – not at the grand St. Peter’s Square with crowds of people.
While I am a little sad that none of the ‘pomp and circumstance’ will be happening at any of the liturgies at Holy Week (per the decrees of the Holy See), this Holy Week will allow each one of us, including myself to truly immerse ourselves into the Paschal Mysteries of Our Lord.
Where are the palms? How can I get them? That is a question I have been seeing on social media over the past couple weeks, ever since social distancing has been enforced. Is it Palm Sunday without the palms? Well certainly yes! While I agree the external symbols are important, especially in the context of the Liturgy, let us not forget about the meaning of the palms that we use.
Sometimes, we are busy fiddling with our palms than paying attention to the prayers used at the Blessing of the Palms:
Almighty ever-living God,RM PS 6 (Blessing of the Palms option 1)
sanctify + these branches with your blessing,
that we, who follow Christ the King in exultation,
may reach the eternal Jerusalem through him.
“…follow Christ the King in exultation.” Have we ever really paid attention to those words, or do we just let the blessing pass by, waiting for the presider to sprinkle the palms with holy water, bring the palms home and tuck them somewhere until next Palm Sunday…
What does it mean to “...follow Christ the King in exultation,” especially during this time of pandemic when everything in the world is dark and gloomy with no end of sight? How can we exult if death is on the news every day? How can we exult when we are quarantined to the point of boredom in our homes? How can we exult when we cannot celebrate the Eucharist with out community, especially during the most important time of the year for Christians?
We exult not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. We know that even in the darkest times, Jesus is with us. We exult, knowing that from the bloody and sorrowful passion, comes the triumphant resurrection. We exult because through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have the hope of reaching the “eternal Jerusalem through him.”
Sometimes, people think they can do anything or have the “I’m the boss!” type of mentality. I have seen that on the news as people deliberately disregarding the guidelines put out by the government regarding social distancing and avoiding communal gatherings. On another side, I have seen Catholics, particularly on social media complaining about their local bishop about the temporary suspension of public Masses and celebration of the Sacraments. Some complain about not being able to receive communion on the tongue… a lot of complaining and an act I would classify as disobedience.
There are times when we might think what we do is an exultation of Christ the King. Unfortunately, it is not. To exult Christ the King is to humble ourselves. Philippians 2:6-11 which is read every Palm Sunday, is one of favourite texts, particularly:
…[Jesus] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.Philippians 2:7-8
That image of Jesus, true God, truly taking on the flesh of man, becoming not an earthly king, but a slave… that gives me the goosebumps when I reflect on it. That is our God – one who lives by example for every one of us. Jesus was scared when faced with the cross. Bringing Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane, he “began to feel sorrow and distress.” (Mt 26:37) to the point that he prayed to the Father, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (26:42)
Understanding the person of Jesus, particularly the moment of his agony in the garden will help us to understand Philippians 2:6-11. On a larger scale, I think understanding Jesus through the story of the Passion read in today’s liturgy will help us understand wholly the extent of Jesus’ obedience to the Father.
We see something here: through the obedience of Jesus, going through the gory passion to the crucifixion and burial in the tomb… though difficult, and seemingly dark, lead to triumphant victory of the resurrection, the victory of Easter. Through it all, his very action of obedience to the Father, was a sacrifice of exultation to the Father.
Therefore, even as we celebrate the holiest of weeks in our domestic churches, let us remember to make our sacrifices, (which are very little compared to that of Jesus on the cross), become a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice of exultation. We exult Christ the King today knowing that Easter is coming, Easter is coming! We exult in the fact that we too will share in that Easter and see God face-to-face one day! We exult in the fact that darkness never lasts forever and that when the light comes, it will come in all its brightness!
Wishing you and your family a prayerful and solemn Holy Week. Let’s continue to pray for each other.