Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

March 17, 2016

The Pastor's Page

The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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