Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

Extract from General Decree (of November 16, 1955) restoring the liturgy of Holy Week: “Let the faithful be invited to take part in the Procession of Palms in greater numbers, thus rendering Christ the King public witness of their love and gratitude.”

The Second Sunday in Passiontide would be in any case a great and holy day, as it commemorates the last triumph of Our Lord Jesus Christ on earth and opens the Holy Week. On this day, the Church celebrates the triumphant entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem, when the multitude, going before and following after Him, cut off branches from the trees and strewed in His way, shouting: “Hosanna [glory and praise] to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.” It is in commemoration of this triumph that palms are blessed and borne in solemn procession.

In fact, this Palm Sunday triumph of Our Lord only led to His death. But we know that this death was not a failure. It was through His Passion and Death that He conquered the world and entered into His Kingdom. “I, if I be lifted up…will draw all things to myself” (John 12:32). So the Church asks the faithful to join in the triumphal Procession today as an act of homage and gratitude to Christ our King. This triumphal beginning to Holy Week is full of meaning. Although the purple Mass vestments and the Gospel of the Passion remind us that the Cross lies ahead, we already know that this is the means of victor. So the Church asks us to begin Holy Week by joyfully and publicly acknowledging Christ the King.

The principal ceremonies of the day are the blessing of the palms, the procession, and the Mass with the reading of the Passion. The blessing of the palms follows a ritual similar to that of the Mass,—having an Epistle, a Gospel, a Preface, and a Sanctus. The Epistle refers to the murmuring of the Israelites in the desert, and their sighing for the flesh-pots of Egypt. The Gospel describes the triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The prayers which follow the Sanctus ask God to “bless the branches of palm… that whoever receives them may find protection of soul and body… that into whatever place they shall be brought, the inhabitants may obtain His blessing; that the devout faithful may understand the mystical meaning of the ceremony, that is, that the palms represent the triumph over the prince of death… and therefore, the issue thereof declares both the greatness of the victory, and the riches of God’s mercy.

These ceremonies are the remainder of the early custom of having two Masses on this day: one for the blessing of the palms, the other after the procession. The prayers of the blessing, the Antiphon of the procession and the hymn Gloria, laus make this one of the most impressive ceremonies of the Liturgical Year.


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