Readings: Book of the Prophet Isaiah 50:4-7; Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians 2:6-11; Gospel According to Saint Luke 22:14-23:56
Palm Sunday Mass normally begins outside the church building with a recounting of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. After hearing the description this event from the Gospel, the people and priest process into church carrying blessed palm or olive branches, singing joyous songs in praise of the Lord who saves us.
Joy and triumph shift to another focus with the entrance into church, the opening prayer and then sitting to listen to the scripture readings about the Suffering Servant of God from the book of the prophet Isaiah, then the recounting of betrayal, passion and death of the Lord from the Letter to the Philippians and the Gospel According to Saint Matthew.
The festive mood at the beginning of Sunday Mass turns to a serious and attentive one rather quickly. Holy Week has begun and this is the high point of the Liturgical Year for followers of Jesus Christ.
The blessed branches that are carried at the beginning of the Eucharistic celebration this Sunday—a symbol of victory–are reminders that we are committed to following Christ, even unto death. Our call is to strive for fidelity to our God by embracing the Gospel without giving up, even when discouraged, betrayed, mocked, or put to death, as Christ was.
The procession with palm or olive branches and hearing the words of Scripture regarding the life, death and ultimately the resurrection of Christ, is not something merely from the past meant to remind us of events from ages past, with little or no relevance for the present. Rather, all that we celebrate throughout this Holy Week is a clear reminder that God is with us now, working on our behalf. The power of the resurrection of Christ has a daily and real effect in our lives by the working of the Holy Spirit in us and with us as an undying source of grace and joy for us now and always.
This means we are called not to acclaim the Lord merely with our lips or just on certain days of the year, such as Palm Sunday, but with our very lives, each and every day, every moment of our life. Blessed Charles de Foucauld put it in terms of “proclaiming the Gospel with your life.” How we live should be different from the way someone who does not believe in God would live. That means evaluating how we use our time, talents, words, thoughts and deeds. We not only evaluate, though, but also change what needs to be changed in order to reflect and live out a Christian commitment here and now. This is no easy task and we may fail regularly in our attempts, but we never give up trying.
Our belonging to Christ is to be a matter of the heart that encompasses our entire being and time. That does not mean we neglect the “mundane” aspects of our life, our obligations to family, work, exercise, nourishment and relaxation, but all of it is to be consecrated to God and entrusted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we may be people on fire for God and for the Kingdom of God present and yet to come. This implies we know our God, spend time in prayer and participate in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist and receive the Body and Blood of the Lord.
Christ has desired to identify with every human being, past, present and to come. As God, Christ is capable of bestowing this great blessing. Christ experienced suffering and death to redeem us and in order to draw all to a share in divine life. We are all partakers of God’s unending love and gifts, especially shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The live this Holy Week we pray for the powerful grace of God to live our daily lives in the light of faith and hope, seeing in Christ the just one who was condemned, but also the origin of our strength.
May the week now beginning find us renewed in zeal for the things of God, for love of God and neighbor, eager to celebrate next Sunday the Passover of our Lord, the central mystery of our Christian faith. We are called to die with Christ so that we might rise with him as well.
May God illumine and guide our steps today and throughout our lives. A blessed Holy Week to one and all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB