|The Sufferings of Christ a Pattern for the Sufferings of His Church.*
Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord.
Lessons from the secondary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
[At the procession...]
• Mark 11: 1-10.
• Psalm 24 (23).
• Psalm 47 (46).
[At Holy Mass...]
• Isaiah 50: 4-7.
• Psalm 22 (21): 8-9, 17-20, 23-24.
• Philippians 2: 6-11.
• Mark 14: 1—15: 47.
The Second Sunday of the Passion, known as Palm Sunday.
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
[At the procession...]
• Psalm 23: 1-2, 7-10.
• Psalm 46.
• Matthew 21: 1-9.**
• Psalm 147.
[At Holy Mass...]
• Philippians 2: 5-11.
• Psalm 72: 24, 1-3.
• Psalm 21: 2-9, 18-19, 22, 24, 32.
• Matthew 26: 36-75; 27: 1-66.
Lessons from the triodion, according to the typicon of the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite:
• Philippians 4: 4-9.
• John 12: 1-18.***
9:20 AM 3/29/2015 — When Mary anoints Jesus with perfumed oil, seemingly out of love and devotion, we realize, as does our Lord, that she’s really anointing Him in preparation for his burial, even though she doesn’t know this. The Jewish custom was to dress the body with perfumed oils prior to burial; but, remember that this could not be done for Jesus after His death because it was the Sabbath and late in the day; that's why Mary, Mary and Salome went to the tomb on Easter Sunday: to perform this ritual retroactively, as it were. They couldn't do it because they found the tomb empty; but, even if our Lord had not yet risen, they couldn't have done it because it had already been done. That makes this anointing in the home of Lazarus significant: because it, in fact, is our Lord's burial anointing, even though He's not yet dead. And it becomes obvious that the triumphant procession we remember today is really a funeral procession, even though no one there at the time knew it except Jesus Himself. They wanted to crown Jesus on this day and make Him King; and, He would be King. But the crown He would wear would be a crown of thorns; and His reign as a king would begin with his death.
We’ve discussed before how the life of our Lord is a prefiguring of the life of the Church—or perhaps it’s more proper to say that the life of the Church mirrors the life of the Savior—and we see many instances of this throughout history with the lives of the martyrs; but, I can’t think of any moment in history where this is more clear than today; and, by now, we should all know, as Holy Week draws near, to brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of Discovery Channel shows about the “real” historical Jesus, and how scientists have determined that a freak cold spell froze the Sea of Galilee which enabled our Lord to only pretend to walk on water, and maybe it was a long lost twin brother of our Lord who appeared after the crucifixion fooling everyone into thinking that he had risen from the dead. God only knows what they’ll come up with next. And if none of that is able to entice you to stay home from church on Easter, we can always drag out the sex abuse crisis—that’s always good in a pinch—as if the conduct of the Church’s human representatives has any bearing on the truths of the Faith. What better time to attack Christianity than during the holiest time of the year for Christians? Of course, if someone says anything derogatory about any other religion—not that any of us would ever do so—that person is an instant bigot; someone draws a picture of the prophet Mohammed and a riot ensues, and then everyone says how terrible it is how insensitive some people are to someone else's religious beliefs. Atheism is protected by the Constitution (or so we’re told), and someone can lose his livelihood for suggesting that marriage should be left to the perogative of the Church as instituted by Christ, or publicly challenging the right to an abortion, even without personally criticizing anyone; but Christianity—and the Catholic Church in particular—is fair game; you can hate the Catholic Church all you want. Catholics are the last societal group you’re allowed to hate simply because of who they are and what they believe, and still be considered an enlightened person, welcomed at all the best cocktail parties.
Now, we could go into an analysis of why Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is so feared and hated in America today, but this is Holy Week, and our purpose here is different. It suffices to point out that the fear and hatred that we, as Christians, receive from our fellow citizens is no different than the fear and hatred that our Lord received from his fellow citizens which led to His Passion and death on the Cross. It makes sense: truth, after all, cannot be disproved; so, if what you fear is the truth, you can’t attack the message, so you attack the messenger instead. That’s what’s happening to us as Christians now, because that’s exactly what was happening to Jesus when He made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
An interesting tit-bit upon which to reflect is that the people lining the streets of Jerusalem, cheering for Jesus and throwing their palms in His path, were most likely the very same people who, by the end of the week, would be shouting at Pilate for His death. We must begin Holy Week with this perspective: that just as Jesus’ kingship is defined by His suffering and death—just as His power and reign as a king become real in the darkest moments of His Passion—so Jesus is present for us even as we face the darkest moments of our lives. We can’t help, as we relive this week the sufferings of Christ, to think of our own sufferings. But it was through His sufferings that Jesus became a king and achieved the purpose for which He came to earth. Just so, no matter what we may be suffering through in our lives, if we unite that suffering to Christ’s, then it will raise us up just as it did Him.
It’s not easy to believe, sometimes, when we are suffering and feel abandoned. It’s not easy to think that it is precisely through our sufferings that we can receive the greatest graces and blessings, just as it wasn’t easy for Saint John and the other disciples, watching Jesus die on the cross, to believe that their glory and the glory of the Church they would establish, was just beginning.
So, as we relive today this complex scene—the parade of cheers that ends in death—let us contemplate our hardships and sufferings and thank God for them, and resolve to unite them to the sufferings of Christ, and so realize, in spite of how sorry we like to feel for ourselves sometimes, how richly blessed we are by the God who suffered for us.
* In the ordinary form, this is the only Sunday of the year where a homily is not required. The Roman Missal Third Edition indicates that a homily "may" follow the Gospel read at the procession, and that one "should" follow the reading of the Passion, but adds that the homily following the Passion may be replaced by a period of silence. This homily was preached following the Passion.
** When Mass is celebrated without the blessing of palms and the lessons for the procession are omitted, this Gospel replaces the usual "Last Gospel" (John 1: 1-14) sung at the end of Mass.
*** In the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite, the blessing of pussy willows and palms, and a procession therewith, take place at Matins. In parishes that do not celebrate Matins, pussy willows and palms may be blessed just prior to the Divine Liturgy using the prayer of blessing taken from Matins, but there are no Scripture lessons nor additional rituals associated with this blessing. The pussy willows and palms are then distributed to the people during the incensation of the church and icon screen that normally begins the Liturgy, which then proceeds as usual.
In the Byzantine Tradition, this day is not associated with the reading of the Passion of our Lord; the reading of the Passion is, in fact, spread out among the various services of Great & Holy Week, and is not read all at one time, though the largest portion of it is read during Solemn Vespers of Great & Holy Friday.