March 23, 2018

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

The Sunday Readings

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

A procession will precede Mass, ideally involving the entire congregation, who will carry palms blessed by the principal celebrant. These palms will recall similar branches used to acclaim the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

As if to set the stage for Holy Week, the procession begins with a reading from St. Mark’s Gospel. This reading recalls 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 would be the route of the Messiah.

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

After this procession, the Liturgy of the Word will continue. The first reading is from Isaiah, the third “suffering servant” song, emphasizing the 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. They are most expressive and moving. Christians always have seen them as a prophecy of Jesus in his Passion.

Supplying the second reading is St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Eloquent and most compelling, this passage is believed by scholars to originally have been a liturgical hymn used in the earliest days of the Church.

The hymn is an exclamation of the glory—and the humility—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 offers its own perspective on the Passion. 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 failure of the religious scholars to recognize the Lord’s true identity, the crowd’s hysteria and the injustice of the kangaroo court, all were important details for Mark.

On trial, Jesus stood willingly helpless before Pilate, the representative of the pagan Roman Empire, earthly power at its zenith.

The suffering servant song exemplifies Jesus, innocent and good, confronted with human sin and death.

This Gospel is a wonderful prelude to the story of the resurrection to be told on Easter.

Reflection

People always remember where they were when they first heard of the horrible collisions of hijacked planes with the World Trade Center Towers 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.

Everyone recalls when he or she heard that something extraordinary, happy or not, had occurred to them or to someone near and dear to them: a death, a birth, a promotion, a bad diagnosis.

Thus it was, not surprisingly, with the evangelists. They vividly remembered the Passion of Jesus: what they saw or perhaps what they heard from witnesses. Their careful reconstructions of Holy Week in the Gospels show this. Why? The events were so critical.

Today, in this imposing proclamation, Mark’s Gospel reveals that Jesus faced the sin of the world alone. His fate belonged to him.

Each Christian is in a similar situation. The Church starkly reminds us that individually we must choose God or not, good or evil, life or death. We must follow Jesus to Calvary. Easter will remind us that new life awaits the faithful.

Palm Sunday begins the Church’s most profound lesson about our reality. †

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