With Palm Sunday we initiate Holy Church’s final self-emptying before her liturgical death with the Lord during the Sacred Triduum and her resurrection with Him at Easter.
At the Lord’s arrival in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, the people waved branches and sang Ps 118, about the coming of a Davidic Priest-King-Messiah, as they would have at the autumn harvest festival of Booths or Tabernacles. Tabernacles looked back to how the People lived in the wilderness for 40 years, and looked forward to the return of the glory cloud of God’s Presence to the Temple.
Before Mass, Father blesses palms branches for our processions. In other places, such as Rome, olive branches are blessed. Our Eastern brethren often use pussy willows. In the traditional Roman Rite the priest blesses the palms, saying:
Bless, ☩ we beseech Thee, O Lord, these branches of palm [or olive or other trees]: and grant that what Thy people today bodily perform for Thy honor, they may perfect spiritually with the utmost devotion, by gaining the victory over the enemy, and ardently loving every work of mercy.
Note that “perform bodily”, juxtaposed to spiritual performance. Note that “gaining victory over the enemy” – the world, the flesh, and the Devil – juxtaposed to loving works of mercy. Note the intertwining of what is interior to our soul and what is outwardly performed. We must put into outward action who we are inside. What we accomplish externally both reflects and shapes who we are interiorly.
When we participate in our sacred liturgical rites, we become enwrapped in the mysteries they present. Sacramental reality is no less real than sensible reality. During Holy Week, we journey with Christ in procession to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to the Garden and the Way of the Cross, and to Calvary itself and thereby participate mysteriously in His saving mission. Participation in our rites shapes those who are open to grace. We are our rites.
On her way to Auschwitz, St Edith Stein remarked: “Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within.” On this Palm Sunday, during this Holy Week, you may not be able physically to participate in church. This is your opportunity to reflect on the gifts of the Church’s sacred rites, and how important they are for our identity. We can emerge from this time with even greater devotion.
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