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Holy Week: A new future

Gospel Commentary MT 26:14-27:66

It has often been remarked that Palm Sunday contains the most dramatic mood swing in the entire liturgical year. It is the liturgy of “cheers and jeers.” We move from the enthusiastic “Hosannas” of the crowd as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the solemn reading of the Passion where Jesus is very much alone.

If we look at popular images of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday as portrayed by artists over the centuries, we notice some intriguing details.

Despite the cheers of the crowd, Jesus does not respond in kind. He is not portrayed as waving back, accepting the enthusiastic acclaim of the crowd. Rather he proceeds solemnly into Jerusalem.

Jesus rides a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Jesus does not enter Jerusalem on a white charger, the equivalent of General Patton entering a town in a tank. Rather, the Lord rides a donkey indicating that the redemption He brings would be accomplished not by violence and military means but by obedience to the Father.

The crowds teach us a lesson as well. Some scholars say that there were two groups of people. The “Hosannas” were sung by the people of Galilee who had followed Jesus to Jerusalem after His raising Lazarus from the dead. The people who would seek Jesus’ death, shouting “Crucify Him,” were the people of Judea, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who were not very enthusiastic about Jesus and His challenges to their spiritual complacency.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI offers an intriguing and potent insight into Palm Sunday in his book Jesus of Nazareth. He notes that Jerusalem is on a higher elevation than Galilee or Bethany. In other words, Jesus ascends to Jerusalem like the priest ascending to the altar at the beginning of the Mass to celebrate the Passover. It is as though Jesus is saying in gesture, “Introibo ad altare Dei,” “I will go to the altar of God.”

In the medieval period, many theologians saw the rubrics of the Mass as expressing some element of Christ’s Passion. It is as though the Mass were a ritual Passion Play.

If we continue with Pope Emeritus Benedict’s striking detail, we can see the discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper as the Liturgy of the Word. On Calvary, we have the sacrifice that frees mankind from sin, proclaimed at the Last Supper, accomplished once and for all as Jesus says, “It is finished,” the Lord’s equivalent to “Ite Missa est.”

Finally, because of the Resurrection of Jesus, the unique sacrifice of Jesus is then extracted from time and made available to all generations through the liturgy of the Mass. Its power is the fuel of every sacrament.

As we begin Holy Week, we can use the vivid Scripture readings of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday as avenues to appreciate the Mass as the heartland of our Catholic faith. If we have drifted from the Church and want to return, come to Mass. If we are burdened by anxiety and fear, come to Mass. If we feel that our life is pointless or worthless, come to Mass. If we need revival and renewal, come to Mass.

Holy Week is not only a remembrance of events long ago. It is the promise of a new future for each of us.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017