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.
While the Pope gives an Urbi et Orbi blessing twice a year, this one was widely shared, partially because unlike the ordinary ones, it was given during a time that was convenient for most people (at least Canadians). Or, some were at home with nothing to do or simply could not sleep.
Unlike the ordinary Urbi et Orbi blessings the Pope gives at Christmas and Easter, not a lot of people knew what to expect at this extraordinary Urbi et Orbi. Some may have thought the Pope was going to go out in pontifical regalia, or in Pope Francis’ case, at least a nicely embroidered stole, a large processional cross leading the way. However, March 27’s Urbi et Orbi began with none of that solemnity. I remember vividly, and I am sure many do, the livestream began with Pope Francis without aides, security guards, and without umbrella, walking across St. Peter’s Square alone in the rain – the first time I ever saw that.
With the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we walk into one of the more critical points of Lent before entering Holy Week. Prior to the reforms of the Liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, this Sunday was known as the First Passion Sunday, and next week, Palm Sunday, would be known as the Second Passion Sunday. The period of Lent starting this Sunday was also traditionally known as Passiontide. It is traditional for Sacred Art to be covered in purple veils during this period. Crosses would be unveiled at the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the other art are unveiled at the Easter Vigil.
As the Season of Lent draws nearer to a close and therefore, drawing near to the Paschal light of Easter, we are asked to focus ourselves on the Paschal Mysteries. This is very evident of the signs embedded in the Liturgy of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, from the Passiontide veils to the Lectionary readings today. All the readings can all be summed up in the word “resurrection”.
The way human beings sees things is not the same way God would see things. I think this is the overall theme of this Sunday’s Lectionary readings.
In the first reading, we read of the calling of David to be king. Out of all the sons of Jesse, David the shepherd boy is called to be king. A shepherd boy…a king? In the eyes of the secular world, today and even the past, a typical image of the king is one who bears masculine qualities, likely rich and probably a man with some good educational background… qualities in which a shepherd boy would not likely have. Yet, God chose David out of all of his brothers to be king. Similar callings are very much evident in Scripture. God chose Moses, a man “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex 4:10) to be his “spokesman” (see Ex 3-4). In the New Testament, Jesus chooses to surround himself with the lowest, uneducated and disregarded people in society such as fishermen (see Mt 4:18-22 and Mk 1:16-20) and tax collectors (see Mt 9:9-13 and Lk 19:1-10).
In a couple of weeks, for a course called “Earth, Portrait of a Planet”, (either in-person or virtually… pending announcement from UofT,) I will be presenting to my colleagues about the topic, “Life outside of earth.” As most of you will know, one of the necessities for life is water. Therefore, in order for a planet to be habitable, there needs to be a sustainable source of water as it is used for drinking, washing and a variety of other purposes, including growing food. It would be impossible for us to live. Besides, our bodies are said to be 70% water.
At the end of 2019 going into the beginning of 2020, before Covid-19 even visibly surfaced and caused a stir in the world more so today, the world’s spotlight was placed on Australia’s wildfires that is said to have taken the lives of 1-billion animals. One of the images that struck people were those of Australian marsupials approaching human beings, and sucking from their water bottles as they were very thirsty – they desperately needed the water to sustain their lives. Such images and videos circulated throughout the internet and many found compassion for these cute little creatures.
Has this pandemic been worrisome for you? It certainly has been for me lately, being in lecture halls with hundreds of people at the University of Toronto. I have taken precautions to the best of my ability, limiting my traveling on public transit only to and from the University of Toronto St. George Campus on weekdays, and traveling to work and youth ministries on weekend. I hope everyone have taken similar precautions.
However, dear brothers and sisters, it is precisely during this time that I am reminded of St. Teresa of Avila’s words she wrote down in her Breviary:
A year ago, after seeking a “traveller’s blessing” from our pastor prior to Ash Wednesday Mass, in less than 24-hours, I was on a flight to Europe where I and several others spent 12-days touring Spain, France and Italy. There were many things from that pilgrimage that I could remember, some of those things I wrote at length in my four-part blog post, The Catholic Pilgrim in Europe. However, listening to the Gospel today, I am reminded of my hour in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
It was a short one-hour visit of the Basilica, but those who have been inside or at least looked at high quality pictures of its interior would know that it is simply breathtaking – breathtaking not only in its beautiful architecture, but breathtaking because the Basilica is at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. This Gospel reminded me not only of the mosaic at the altar of the Transfiguration, modelled after Raphael’s famous rendering of the event, but because I remember I had the same thoughts as Peter in today’s Gospel, “Lord, it is good for us to be here,” (Mt 17:4) when I sat quietly and unplugged of all technology in the gorgeous Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Basilica.
The Church inaugurated the Season of Lent with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, which included the iconic ritual of the Imposition of Ashes, in which all members of the Church all over the world, from our Holy Father, Pope Francis to the youngest of children in the pew, took part in. Today’s readings in a sense echoes either verse the minister would say when distributing the ashes: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:19) and “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15).
It is evident that today’s readings speaks about the T-word of temptation. This theme is always evident in the Lectionary readings provided for the First Sunday of Lent in all three Sunday Lectionary cycles in some capacity or another. Rather than focusing on the Gospel alone, I want to take a look a all three readings and how they are threaded together.
I don’t know about you, but the more Ash Wednesdays that I experience, the deeper I think about who I am and how I should live. When I was younger, precisely in Junior Kindergarten, attending an Ash Wednesday Service at my elementary school back then, Our Lady of Lourdes in Downtown Toronto, presided by Fr. Michael Coutts, S.J. (don’t ask me why I still remember the name of the priest from 15 years ago), I remember dislike having black stuff put on my forehead and for years after, I dreaded Ash Wednesday simply because of that liturgical gesture. To me, I saw it as unsanitary, and “weird”. However, when I grew a little older, I slowly began to understand the meaning of Ash Wednesday.
Vincent Pham, known as The Catholic Man by many of his friends, is a student at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science pursuing a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy along with a minor in Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumni of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.