March 14, 2008

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend, the Church begins Holy Week by offering to us the richest jewels of its magnificent liturgical treasury.

As the week proceeds, the Church will call us to join with believers everywhere in celebrating the reality of the eternal Christ in the Chrism Mass at cathedrals, in the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the powerful liturgy of the Lord’s death on Good Friday, and the brilliantly hopeful and joyful Easter Vigil on Saturday.

On this weekend, the liturgy commemorates the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. This liturgy is profound in its simplicity, but extraordinary in its message.

At the beginning of the liturgy are two readings from the Gospels. The first reading occurs at the blessing of the palms and as the procession of the faithful bearing the palms assembles in church.

This reading reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through the knowledge that an ass and colt are in the village ahead, and the Lord’s mission as Messiah. He is entering Jerusalem, David’s capital, the city in which sacrifice to God is offered.

Jerusalem’s people salute the Lord as “son of David,” greeting Jesus as their own legitimate king.

Beginning the Liturgy of the Word as on any other day, the Church then reads from the third part of Isaiah.

One of those eloquent and expressive sections of Isaiah, which biblical scholars called the “Songs of the Suffering Servant,” this passage lauds an unflinchingly faithful servant of God, who despite abuse and persecution remains steadfastly loyal. Christians have always seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.

The Epistle to the Philippians provides the next lesson.

Eloquently, it excitedly proclaims Jesus as Lord, capturing so well the unflinching faith of the first Christians. Actually, scholars think that this passage was an early Christian liturgical hymn.

At last, the Church gives us the great pearl of this weekend’s lesson from Scripture by solemnly proclaiming—usually with three readers for the sake of drama and impact—the Passion narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

It is too bad that the four Evangelists’ individual and distinct insights into the Passion often are lost by dwelling upon the horror of Roman crucifixion.

More important is to see all that the Crucifixion actually meant. It reveals the identity of Jesus.

It is not just that the Romans dealt unmercifully with Jesus, and that Jesus endured the most intense physical pain in the process of being executed. Jesus willingly was the sacrificial lamb, offered in Jerusalem to God.


Matthew’s Gospel begins with the story of the birth of Jesus. It then recalls the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem, a story unique to Matthew. The story has a very important lesson for us. The Magi were foreigners. They were not Jews. They yearned to find God. The Magi recognized Jesus as the Son of God.

Another vitally important part of the story is that the Holy Family received them. Jesus came for us all.

Matthew’s Passion narrative offers the same lesson. Pilate’s wife, almost certainly a Roman and pagan, admires Jesus. She warns her husband not to mistreat Jesus. After the Crucifixion, the Roman soldier announces that Jesus indeed is the Son of God.

Ethnicity is not the issue. Coming to God is the issue. Doubts, ignorance, anger or neglect of religion may cause people to be estranged from God. Causes matter not. The past matters not.

Jesus is the Son of God. Testifying to this fact were the striking events after the Crucifixion, such as the tearing of the Temple’s veil. Jesus died for us. Jesus loves us.

At Holy Week, the Church calls us to respond to the Lord’s love. He awaits us. Despite whatever we have done, whatever keeps us away from God, Jesus loves us, and he died for us. †

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