With our Jewish forebears singing at Passover, and with countless Catholic generations, at every Mass we cry to the Lord, “we beseech You, save us! … hôšîʿâ-nā!”. This Sunday we say “Hosanna” with a difference.
On that first Palm Sunday, pilgrims swarmed the holy city, swelling its numbers to a million. As they walked to the city they sang the Songs of Ascent ascribed to David and Solomon. But this time they suddenly saw someone not walking, but rather swaying, head and shoulders above the crowds.
It was the famous Jesus, who had raised quatriduum dead Lazarus, riding the foal of an ass like Solomon of old (1 Kings 1).
The Jews knew their Scripture. They recognised the fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9-10: a king had come. Since kings were anointed, the moshiach had come to Zion. They were ready for the next step. The messiah, the Davidic high priest king, would enter Jerusalem and offer sacrifice at the massive four-horned bronze altar of the Temple. So they switched to sing the verses of the Hallel Psalm 118, sung during the slaughter of the quarter million lambs and the Passover meal:
This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success!
Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!
Surely Christ was the new Davidic high priest king, but not one of earthly glory and majesty. Surely He fulfilled the prophecies, but in unexpected ways. Surely He would offer sacrifice, but at the new altar of the Cross which the bronze four-horned altar foreshadowed.
Speaking of the Hallel, these were sung also at the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple (Hannukah). A new Temple, prefigured by the old, was now to be dedicated: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Ancient writers thought of Lent and the proximate preparation for the Paschal Mysteries and baptisms as a kind of sacrament which makes us present to the mysteries it renews and them to us. We are our rites. Sing your Hosannas with a difference.