“Today, Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week with our minds and our hearts lifted up to the Lord, focusing on the great event of our salvation: the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades preached at the Palm Sunday 9 a.m. Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral Parish, South Bend. “I encourage you to take advantage of all the graces of this week, to live these days with special reverence and devotion through prayer and participation in the beautiful liturgies of this week.”
With the cathedral’s religious art draped in purple, candles lit and incense burning, the high holy days of the liturgical year began.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord inaugurates the holiest week of the entire year for Roman Catholics. The liturgy itself demonstrates this uniqueness with the proclamation of two Gospel accounts, one of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and another of the Passion narrative. This year, both accounts were from the Gospel of Mark and highlighted an ironic contradiction, as the same crowds that exclaimed “Hosanna” would, in less than a week, shout “Crucify Him!”
Wearing red chasubles as a reminder of Jesus’ passion, the entrance procession stopped in the nave of the church, where Bishop Rhoades began the liturgy. The families gathered had numerous children who were delighted at being given something to hold. Palm branches raised and flapping about, the bishop sprinkled them with holy water.
The Liturgy of the Word spoke to the foreshadowing of Christ by the prophet Isaiah, looked ahead to the words of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday and remembered the first Christian hymn as recorded in Philippians. Then the Passion narrative was proclaimed, with various deacons, priests, Bishop Rhoades and the faithful speaking the various voices and parts.
During his homily, Bishop Rhoades opened Scripture and explained how Jesus’ actions on the first Palm Sunday fulfilled the salvific promise as foretold in the Old Testament during the time of King David.
“Jesus entering Jerusalem mounted on a donkey was a bold announcement that He was the Messiah, the new king Jerusalem had been waiting for,” he said. “He was the king who entered the city not on a horse or chariot and not carrying any weapons. He entered “meek” and riding on a donkey. This was His kingship. He is the new king who will bring peace, not war. This went against the popular view that the Messiah King would be a warrior who would overthrow the Romans and establish a powerful restoration of David’s kingdom. Jesus did, in fact, establish a kingdom, but a kingdom not of this world. He inaugurated the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”
The faithful were encouraged to open their hearts to the King of mercy, who is so different than the kings who have typically ruled the earth.
Bishop Rhoades connected what happened on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago to the present day.
“At this Mass and at every Mass, we worship Christ our King,” he explained. “We sing the same words sung by the people on that first Palm Sunday: ‘Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’
“And Our Lord comes. Our King, who entered Jerusalem humbly and with meekness, riding on a donkey, comes to us under the humble forms of bread and wine. This is the banquet of our King. It is the sacrifice of our King.”
Jesus’ kingship is one of humility, one of sacrificial love, one of servant leadership. Following the King requires His disciples to do the same. Everything done to the least of one’s brothers and sisters is done to Jesus Himself.
“During this Holy Week, may we give honor and praise to our King, who reigns from the throne of the cross. His royal throne is the wood of the cross,” the bishop concluded. “Jesus is our shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. He is the Son of God who loved us to the end. We are His disciples and we seek to love Him in return. We strive to follow Him along the way of the cross, the path of love. We strive to serve Him in our brothers and sisters, especially in the poor and the needy, the sick and the suffering.
“The Lord says to us: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ This week, I pray we experience anew this love that reached its climax on Mount Calvary.”
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