Monthly Archives: March 2024

Palm Sunday

Holy Week greetings to you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ!

There are so many noteworthy and memorable moments surrounding the Holy Week liturgies. Holy Thursday’s foot washing, Good Friday’s lengthy intercessions, and the Easter Vigil’s blessing of fire all stand out in my mind, as they may also in yours. But before we look too far ahead in the week, let us consider Palm Sunday and the remarkable entrance with which it begins.

Hopefully you will get to experience the impressive procession from outside the building to inside the church on foot. Sometimes, though, circumstances have us begin in the nave itself. But in either case, this magnificent Mass begins by recalling Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem to celebrate his passion. On this day, though, rather than being met with those who will crucify him, Jesus is accompanied by men, women, and children who welcome his coming. They shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). As we know—and as we imitate in the Palm Sunday Mass—the people who accompanied Christ “spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road” (Matthew 21:8).

As I have said, it is true to say that in today’s Palm Sunday celebrations we recall and imitate what Jesus and his followers did centuries ago. But we are not simply plugging into some historical reenactment or taking part in a kind of passion-play. Rather, these events, presented again in the Mass, call us to deeper and more eternal truths than historical events.

In a reflection by St. Andrew of Crete (an eighth-century bishop, theologian, and hymn writer), we get a beautiful insight into the meaning of the Palm Sunday entrance, especially by means of the palms themselves. St. Andrew says: “let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him…. [L]let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel” (from the Office of Readings on Palm Sunday).

Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate Holy Week, I invite you to look beneath the surface of our celebrations. Holy Thursday is about much more than ending up with clean feet; Good Friday is more meaningful and memorable than “Let us kneel” and “Let us stand” during the petitions; and the Easter Vigil signifies greater realities than keeping warm during a cool night. Palm Sunday, too, calls us to do more than get our palms, or fold them in creative ways, or hang them in our houses. Their real value—that is, their challenge and their call—is as an invitation to lay ourselves at the feet of Jesus as he comes to save us. If we do, Christ will not leave us in the ash-heap where Ash Wednesday began, but he will raise us up and seat us in the company of princes (see Psalm 113:7-8)—indeed, of the victorious King himself!

May you have a holy Holy Week!

Bishop William Patrick Callahan