On Waving Palm Branches
Today we begin the holiest week of the liturgical year with two Gospel readings at Mass. First, at the start of the Eucharistic celebration, as a Church we stand holding palm branches and listen to the account from Saint Mark of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We place ourselves in the story as part of the crowd that in Jesus’ time gathered along the road to wave their branches and proclaim him King.
What is important to realize, though, is that our own waving of palms ought not simply be a symbolic gesture. In the sacred mysteries, these events – and the Passion narrative, again from Saint Mark, that we read in full in dramatic fashion later – are made present to us. We, the people hailing Christ as he rides a donkey into the Holy City on Sunday are the same people who say “Crucify him” on Friday, contributing to the suffering and death of Christ. By our participation here, we acknowledge our part in the drama – by our own sins we have separated ourselves from God and require redemption. Our sins brought about Jesus’ death, and yet by his death we are saved.
On this Palm Sunday leading to the Paschal Mystery, I encourage you to take some time to sit quietly and prayerfully reflect on how you can be something more than a passive observer of the sacred liturgies of the Triduum. This week, the Church as she has done for twenty centuries, calls Christians not just to commemorate events of long ago, but to enter the mystery. We are not bystanders. We have been invited to be participants in the mystery of our redemption.
How can you enter more fully into the mystery as it unfolds over the coming week? Making time for daily Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation should be at the top of the list. If the daily Eucharist is not feasible, finding moments to read the Gospel each day and to pray with it will better enable you to join the liturgies on Holy Thursday and Good Friday with the right mindset. Taking the palm home to place in a prominent spot as a visual reminder of our faith, perhaps behind a crucifix, is a popular practice. Another idea is to ask the Lord to help you prepare – to open your heart and eyes and ears to see the richness of the meanings of the symbols and actions of each of the liturgies. Finally, thinking about how to make your days this week as simple and quiet as possible will help make the time special and mark the sacredness of each day of Holy Week.
May this week truly be a blessed one for you and for the whole Church of Washington.