March 27, 2015

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, in a liturgy powerful in its ability to transport us to the momentous events of the first Holy Week, the Church celebrates Palm Sunday.

A procession will precede each Mass, ideally involving the entire congregation, who will carry palms blessed by the celebrant. The procession, the palms and the acclamation of the congregation will recall the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem centuries ago.

Further to impress upon worshippers that arrival, the procession begins with a reading from St. Mark’s Gospel. This reading notes the coming of Jesus, across the Mount of Olives, from Bethany, to Jerusalem. He approached Jerusalem from the East, just as the Scriptures had predicted as the route of the Messiah.

He came in humility. Roman leaders would have ridden into the city on horseback or in chariots. Jesus rode a colt. As the Lord would insist days later to Pilate, the Roman governor, the kingdom of God is not of this world.

After this procession, the Liturgy of the Word progresses normally. The first reading is from Isaiah. It is the third “Suffering Servant” song, emphasizing the unidentified Servant’s absolute devotion to God despite all the difficulties and hardships that would come.

The Book of Isaiah has four of these hymns of the Suffering Servant. Each is expressive and moving. Throughout the centuries, the faithful of the Church have always seen Jesus in this figure.

Supplying the second reading is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Eloquent and most compelling, many scholars believe that its origin was liturgical. The first generation of Christians may have used this hymn in their worship. The hymn is an exclamation of the glory of Christ.

For the Gospel reading in the Liturgy of the Word, the Church this year provides the Passion according to St. Mark.

Each of the Gospels has its own perception of the Passion of Christ. For Mark, the special point is that the Lord was utterly alone as he faced trial and death. Judas’ betrayal, the young man who ran away, Peter’s denial, the inability of the religious leaders to see the Lord’s true identity, and the kangaroo court of the Sanhedrin, dramatized by the high priest’s utter pragmatism, and the similar Roman governor’s court, burdened with the bewilderment and indifference to truth on Pilate’s part—all were important details for Mark, all indications of human frailty and sin.

This Gospel is a wonderful first step in understanding the meaning of Holy Week and human need for redemption.

Reflection

People almost always can say where they were when they first heard of the horrible collisions of hijacked planes with the World Trade Center Towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Americans who were alive on Nov. 22, 1963, remember where they were when they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

Those alive on Dec. 7, 1941, remember hearing the first reports about Pearl Harbor. People alive on April 15, 1912, all knew where they were when they heard that the British luxury liner, Titanic, had sunk with great loss of life in the mid-Atlantic.

Thus it was with the Evangelists. They vividly reported the Passion of Jesus. Their careful, but individual, reconstructions of the day indicates how vital the Lord’s trial and death were in the Evangelists’ presentation of the Good News.

With Lent, the Church has prepared us for Holy Week. Mark tells us that Jesus faced the sin of the world, deserted by frightened, ignorant human beings. He faced death.

Each Christian, somehow, is in similar conflict. The Church bluntly reminds us of this fact, not in despair, but in hope. Follow Jesus to Calvary. Rise with Jesus to new life. Find reality. Find truth. Find genuine self-identity and purpose in life. Find hope. Face facts.

Live Holy Week—learn, repent and be saved. †

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