Each year on the Sunday before Easter, Christians around the world celebrate and commemorate what is traditionally called Palm or Passion Sunday, when we recount the events leading up to the betrayal, crucifixion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This week is the high point of the Liturgical Year, culminating in the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection next Sunday. This is thought of as the busiest but also the richest week in the Christian calendar.
The Sunday liturgy of the Eucharist on Palm Sunday begins with a re-enactment of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. After hearing the recounting of this event from the Gospel, everyone processes into church carrying blessed palm or olive branches, singing joyful songs in praise of the Lord who saves us.
The joy and triumph will change to another focus as we move into church and begin to hear the readings about the Suffering Servant of God from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, then the great passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians about Christ and finally the recounting of the betrayal, passion and death of the Lord according to the Gospel writer, this year Saint Mark.
The festive mood at the beginning of Palm Sunday Mass turns to a serious and even somber note rather quickly. Holy Week has begun and we must be attentive to all that is being offered to us for our reflection, prayer and spiritual benefit.
The blessed branches received and carried at the beginning of the celebration are reminders that we are committed to following Christ, even unto death. Striving to be faithful to the Lord, we embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ without giving up, even when we are discouraged, betrayed, mocked, or put to death, just as Christ was.
Our 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 from the remote past meant to remind of what occurred long ago, with little relevance for the present. Rather, all that we celebrate throughout Holy Week is a clear reminder that God is with us now, working on our behalf and that the power of the resurrection of Christ has a daily and real effect in our lives. We are to be convinced that the working of the Holy Spirit in us and with us is an undying source of grace and now and always.
This means that we are called to acclaim the Lord not merely with our lips or just on certain days of the year, such as Palm Sunday, but with our lives, each and every day.
Saint Charles de Foucauld, the hermit saint of the Sahara, 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 would live.
Saint Benedict tells his monks, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s ways (chapter 4 of the Rule, verse 20). That means every follower of Christ, not just monks, is in need of evaluating the use of 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. We all have obligations to family, work and community, and we need time for exercise 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, that we spend time in prayer each day and joyfully participate in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist as well as Penance or Reconciliation.
Christ has desired to identify with every human being, past, present and to come. As God, the Lord is capable of this great work. As man, Jesus underwent suffering and death to draw all to himself. We are all partakers of unending love and gifts from God, especially shown to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
To be spiritually enriched in this Great and Holy Week this year, we pray for the grace of God to live our daily lives in the light of faith, hope and love, the theological virtues, seeing in Christ the Just One who was condemned, yet at the same time the origin of our strength and all life.
May this Holy Week 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, the Resurrection of Christ.
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 all.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB