March 31, 2023

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

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Church observes Palm Sunday this weekend. The Mass for this start of Holy Week recalls with great reverence the Lord’s traditional entry into Jerusalem.

The liturgy includes two readings from the Gospels. The first, occurring at the blessing of the palms at the start of the Mass, reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through knowing that an ass and colt are in the village ahead, and his mission as the Messiah.

Christ was approaching Jerusalem, more than just a city in pious Jewish minds, but the holy place in which God’s temple stands, where David once reigned as king and where the prophets spoke in God’s name. It was and is the center of Jewish faith and worship. It would be the site of the culmination of the Lord’s mission.

The crowd proclaimed the Lord as “son of David” (Mt 21:9). They greeted the Messiah as their own legitimate king, David’s heir, not the detested Roman emperor.

For its next reading, the Church gives us a passage from the third part of Isaiah, one of those eloquent and expressive sections of Isaiah biblical scholars call the “songs of the suffering servant.” Poetic and descriptive, these four songs laud an unflinchingly faithful servant of God who, despite abuse and persecution, remained steadfastly loyal. Christians always have seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.

In the next reading, from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, the spotlight is again on Jesus in the literary genre of poetry. Scripture scholars now believe that this passage was an early Christian liturgical hymn. Its deep understanding of the person and place of Christ is clear and compelling.

Finally, the liturgy presents the passion narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s presentation of Jesus, in the horrifying circumstances of the passion, conveys powerful lessons.

Even at this fearful time, Jesus was the Christ. Far from being overwhelmed and helpless, the Lord was majestic and totally in control. He is the victim, but a victim completely complying in free will, committed to the Savior’s mission.

While the Apostles do not come across as heroic in their loyalty, to say the least, Jesus never repudiated them. He called them. Despite their fear and cowardice, especially in St. Peter’s case, their call endures. Thus, it is for all called to discipleship. Believers sin and fall, but they can return. Sin cancels no vocation. The Lord’s call is forever.

Finally, all the intrigue, conspiracy and prejudice that surrounded Jesus collapse before the fact that he ultimately triumphed. He always reigns as king, the son of David.


Matthew’s passion narrative is the centerpiece of this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word. It is easy to lose its deeper meaning by being overwhelmed by the awfulness of all that was brought to bear upon Jesus.

Certainly, the treachery and cruelty cannot be dismissed or understated. These elements recall the evil in the world, then and now.

Jesus entered Jerusalem through a gate that some traditions said would receive the Messiah into the Holy City. Jesus died, rose and promised to come again. One pagan overlord of the Holy Land ordered that the gate be eliminated, to prevent this predicted second coming. The gate today still is a solid wall.

Through the centuries, no blocked gates, no walls, no powerful ruler have kept the Lord from entering human hearts yearning for hope and peace.

In more than 20 centuries, no one, or no philosophy, has equaled the Lord Jesus in bringing goodness to the world and hope to untold billions of people.

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s love for us, the salvation he won for us in Jerusalem, the gifts that he so abundantly gives us. †

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