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CELEBRATION OF SUFFERING & GLORY
Next Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. The two names for this day – ‘Palm Sunday’ and ‘Passion Sunday’ – indicate that two aspects of the Paschal Mystery - the suffering (Passion) of Christ and his glory (Palms) – are embodied in the one celebration.
It also encapsulates the unity of the Paschal Mystery; that is, the passion of Christ cannot be separated from the resurrection. There is one passage from death to life and, for Christians, the Passion should mean the single wondrous event of Christ’s dying, rising and glorification at the right hand of his Father.
Sometimes Palm/Passion Sunday may seem to be just a preparation for the more important liturgies of the Triduum. It does more, however, than simply set the stage for the coming week; it announces the reason for, and the meaning of, these celebrations.
Palm/Passion Sunday is especially important for those parishioners who do not attend the celebrations of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday and the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and who will be at Mass on Easter Sunday rather than at the Easter Vigil. For these people, Palm/Passion 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, Passion Sunday 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.
On Palm/Passion Sunday the occasion for our celebration is Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Interestingly, this is one of the few events of Christ’s life that is mentioned in all four gospels. It is also the only time in Jesus’ public life when he actually accepts public acclaim as Messiah. In fact, he even takes the initiative in organising his entrance by sending the apostles off to find the donkey to carry him. Christ enters the holy city where the will of his Father is to be accomplished.
On Palm/Passion Sunday we do not simply celebrate a past triumph, however, but a present and future triumph also. As well as celebrating a victory already achieved, that is, Christ’s dying and rising, we celebrate a victory which is being achieved – our own participation in that saving mystery, and another yet to be achieved – Christ’s return in glory.
By our participation in Palm/Passion Sunday, 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/Passion Sunday is a powerful symbol of the pilgrim Church, a Church on its way. We are moving towards the heavenly Jerusalem, yet we can only make the journey because it has already been made by Christ in his Passion. And Christ has done even more than making this journey for us; he now offers to make it with us.
The Palm Sunday procession is not just a procession for Christ but one with Christ. When the people join in the procession on Palm/Passion Sunday, we see the Church on the move, acting as a single unit, acclaiming Christ with shouts of ‘Hosanna’.