Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord - 13th April 2014

Some older readers may remember that the last two weeks of Lent were once called “Passiontide”, the period during which images and crosses in the church were veiled. The two Sundays in this period were called Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday.

When the liturgical calendar was reformed in 1969, Passion Sunday became the Fifth Sunday of Lent and Palm Sunday was renamed Passion (Palm) Sunday.

The revised Missal designates the day as “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord”. While this is a mouthful, it does reflect more accurately the nature and purpose of the celebration than just “Palm Sunday” as the proclamation of the Passion is much more important than the blessing of palms.

A feature of the liturgy on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem which includes the procession of branches. The latter should not be mistaken for any kind of reconstruction of the event of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Any attempt at replicating the happenings, setting and atmosphere of the day can only go so far. What would this contribute to our faith in any case?

The Church’s liturgy is not a re-enactment of past events but a living encounter with the whole mystery of Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection to glory. The proclamation of the story of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, waving branches and processing together as a pilgrim people are ritual actions which help us call to mind a key event in our salvation history.

By our participation in the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem, we symbolise our commitment to complete the initial victory that Christ has won. We joyfully join ourselves to Christ, making his passion our own. We share in his suffering so that we may share in his glory.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord is especially important for those parishioners who will not attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday and who will be at Mass on Easter Sunday rather than at the Easter Vigil. For these people, this Sunday may be their only opportunity to celebrate the Paschal Mystery in its entirety.

The focus of Easter Sunday is the triumph and joy of the resurrection. Since celebrating Easter without celebrating the cross distorts the Christian message, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord becomes extremely important in revealing the Good News of Christ’s Passion. The readings and prayers of the celebration clearly proclaim that, just as there is no cross without the resurrection, there is no resurrection without the cross.

The rubrics for Mass on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord explain that the Gospel of the Lord’s Passion is read without candles, incense, greeting, signings or final acclamation. This instruction applies also to the reading of the Passion according to John on Good Friday.

Too often, those who prepare and celebrate the liturgy ignore or “tidy up” things like this that are different from others Sundays of the year. Please note: the difference is for a purpose; there is meaning and wisdom in what is set down in the ritual books; the unusual can be very powerful!

Elizabeth Harrington