Palm Sunday Mass starts with pomp and grandeur. At the very beginning of Mass, we listen to the Gospel account of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, when he was greeted as a triumphant king. We receive our blessed palm branches as a reminder of the crowd's shouts of praise.
The regular order of Mass begins after this, and the tone changes immediately. The readings for this liturgical year include a passage from Isaiah, which contains the lines
I gave my back to those who beat me,That doesn't sound like a kingly welcome! We recite a portion of Psalm 22, the same one that Jesus quotes on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" It is considered a messianic psalm, as it foretells events in the life of the Messiah:
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
They have pierced my hands and my feet,I love that this psalm also contains (and in its full version, concludes with) words of praise and glory:
I can count all my bones.
They divide my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me,The second reading is taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Phillipians -- one of my favorite passages from all the epistles. I can't figure out a single part to leave out, I love it so much. So at the risk of gratuitous quoting, here's the reading (Phil 2:6-11):
O my help, hasten to aid me.
I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,The Gospel reading is an account of the passion -- this year, it's from Mark's Gospel. It's by far the lengthiest Sunday Gospel reading of the year. It's also the one time that the congregation plays a part in the reading.
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the Glory of God the Father.
On Palm Sunday, one lector serves as the main narrator (I did this several times at my parish back in Ohio), the priest reads the quotes of Christ, another lector reads the quotes of people like Judas, Peter, and Pilate, and the congregation reads the quotes of the crowd -- phrases like "Crucify him!" and "He saved others; he cannot save himself."
As a child, I didn't like that aspect of the Gospel. I loved Jesus -- I didn't want to be saying "Crucify him" and mocking him! In later years, I grew to appreciate this practice for a couple of reasons:
1. Just because I wasn't alive in first-century Palestine doesn't mean I bear no responsibility for the cross. Jesus died for all of our sins. His sacrifice is not bound by time or place. The weight of every wrong I have ever and will ever commit is applied to his cross. Jesus didn't only endure the cruelty of the crowd he faced that day, but the cruelty of the whole world.
2. As much as I want to believe that I would have been one of Jesus' loyal followers had I been a contemporary, I have no certitude that I would have been. And at the end, almost all of his disciples abandoned him. Even among the apostles, whom we (rightly) regard as saints and the original ministers of our Christian faith, only John stayed with Jesus until the end. (Although, it's interesting to consider that most of the disciples who stayed with Jesus through the crucifixion were women!)
Like so many other aspects of Catholic liturgy, the "lines" we read as the congregation hit me at a visceral level. The experience of listening to and participating in the Gospel is a very somber one, which sets the tone for the entirety of Holy Week.
Usually, there is a recessional hymn sung at the end of Mass. But on Palm Sunday, we exit the church in silence. That silence ushers in a week of sorrow and reflection.
I'm looking forward to a prayerful and penitential Holy Week this year. I'm hoping to go to daily Mass at least once, confession, and hopefully the Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated during the evening on Holy Thursday (it's at 7:30, and Elise usually goes to bed between 8-8:30, so I'm a bit hesitant, but we'll see). There are no Masses on Good Friday or Holy Saturday during the day (on Holy Saturday the Easter Vigil Mass is celebrated; vigil Masses stem from the Jewish tradition that the day ends at sundown). However, there is a Celebration of the Lord's Passion and Death service on Friday afternoon. I went to this service several years ago on Penn State's campus, and it was very beautiful. I'd love to go again, and to the Easter Vigil Mass, but with our family travels I probably won't have the opportunity. I'm really looking forward to Mass on Easter morning, though!
How about you? Do you do anything special for Holy Week?