Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

April 14, 2014 Column Father De Celles

Holy Week begins Today. One of the keys to Lent is meditation on our Lord’s Sacred Passion. This week we do this in a particularly intense way, as we spiritually place ourselves with Our Lord as he suffers in his last hours: as he agonizes in the garden, is scourged, spat upon, mocked, and crowned with thorns; as he carries the cross, is nailed to it and hung upon it for three hours to die an excruciating death. We look upon Jesus enduring all this, and remember that He did this all out of love for His Father and, most amazingly, out of love for us: to pay for our sins (our failures to love God and our neighbor), to save us from eternal damnation, and to enable us to share in His own glorious life. He suffered all this not in spite of the fact that we don’t love Him as we should, but because of that fact: He loves us and wants to save us from our lack of love.


Who can look at this and not be overwhelmed, not simply with grief for His suffering, but also with love for Him who has loved us so much? How can we not open our hearts to Him, and see that our sins are not worth causing Him this pain, not worth walking away from the One who loves us so incredibly?  How can we not ask ourselves why we love our sins so much, when we should be loving Him instead?  How can we see His love and not recognize that the way we love Him and each other falls so far short of this standard? How can we see all this and not open our hearts to grace that flows from His sacred wounds to help us to love as we should?


For almost 40 days we’ve been trying to grow in love through Christ’s grace and our Lenten penances. Most of us have met with mixed results. But we have one more week: let’s resolve to make it a truly “holy” week centered on Jesus’ suffering and ineffable love.


We can do this in many ways, beginning with redoubling our personal efforts of Lenten prayers, sacrifices and acts of charity. But we also do so in a wonderful way by joining in the works of the Church, especially by coming together for the special liturgies of this Holy Week.


We have begun this today, with this unique Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the blessed Palms, the Procession and reading of the Passion. Perhaps you can continue this by attending the outdoor Stations of the Cross performed by our youth this evening (Sunday) after the 5:00 pm Mass.


Then on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, come to daily Mass—let’s fill the church with prayer! I know it can be inconvenient for you, but so was the scouring at the pillar. And if you haven’t been yet this Lent, come to confession—our Lord awaits you there, to wash you clean with the grace pouring from His side on the Cross.


On Holy Thursday, there is no Mass during the day except the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral (all the priests and the Bishop celebrate the institution of the ordained priesthood). But in the evening join us here in the parish as we celebrate The Mass of The Lord’s Supper, commemorating the institution of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Priesthood. The ritual includes the ceremonial washing of the feet, and procession of the Eucharist to an altar in the Parish Hall, where the Lord invites you to “remain here, and watch with me…watch and pray,” as he once invited his apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane.


Then comes Good Friday, the holiest day of the year. It is a day of fasting and abstinence as we share in the suffering of the Lord. We should keep the day with quiet, reflection, and charity—even at work—especially from noon to three. There is no Mass; instead we gather in the church at 3:00 in the afternoon, the hour of our Lord’s death, for the solemn Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. I beg you not to miss it, even if it means leaving work early! This is the highpoint of Lent, the holiest hour of the year—come and be with the Church to worship Christ at the foot of His Cross, at the hour of His death; what in the world could be more important than this?!


During this liturgy everyone comes forward to personally venerate the Cross—by a kiss, or some other gesture—as the choir masterfully leads the singing of beautiful hymns contemplating God’s powerful yet tender love. No wonder the church has been so packed these last two years, even as we moved to venerating only one cross instead of the three once allowed (the Pope and bishops changed the rules).  I am always a little worried that folks might think this takes too long, but the last two years everyone seemed to be truly caught up in the powerful symbolic meaning of kissing the “one cross,” even if it meant waiting awhile—after all, they are waiting with the Blessed Mother, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross.


(Last year, we took a bit longer than necessary, as the two lines fell into approaching the cross one person at a time, instead of two at a time, one line venerating the right arm, the other the left. This year we will take meaningful steps to reduce this unnecessary delay).


After veneration, the priests distribute Communion from hosts brought from the sacristy. After the liturgy is over, the Cross will remain in the sanctuary for those who wish to venerate it later in the day. Later in the evening, at 7:00 pm Stations of the Cross are solemnly prayed with the priest.


On Holy Saturday the Church continues its somber reflective mood, as the Church strongly encourages us to voluntarily continue to fast and abstain from meat as we do on Good Friday.  Mass is never offered during the day on Holy Saturday, but at 8:30 pm (after sunset) the celebration of Easter Sunday begins with the Easter Vigil Mass. It is the “Mother” of all liturgies with all sorts of unique ceremonies: the blessing and presentation of the Easter Candle; the chanting of the Exsultet; a greatly extended Liturgy of the Word; and Baptism, reception into the Church, and Confirmation for adults. It is a glorious Mass, and I encourage all to attend. (However, lasting two hours, it can be tough for little ones).


This is a wondrous week, the holiest week of the year. Let’s not squander this opportunity to change our lives so bereft of true love, to get caught up in the awesomeness of the Love of Christ Jesus.


Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles