The following appears in the Saint Frances Cabrini and Immaculate Conception Sunday bulletins for Palm Sunday, March 20th, 2016:
Praised be Jesus Christ! “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.” With the singing of this entrance antiphon we enter into the sacred celebrations of Holy Week.
Pope Benedict writes beautifully about the events of Holy Week in his second volume of his book Jesus of Nazareth. One thing he explains is that the shouting of “hosanna” has its origins in the Jewish feast of Tabernacles when, in its earliest days, the priests prayed for rain to produce a good harvest. It was a cry of longing, a cry for help, and a cry for a saving intervention by God. As time passed, it would become more of an acclamation of praise, and, by the time of Jesus, its use became linked to the advent of the promised messiah, who would represent the fullness of King David’s power and reign.
Benedict further explains that it is no accident that this chant made its way into the prayers of the Mass almost from its earliest days; we can all recognize it as part of the wording of the Sanctus, or the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” sung at each Mass as we prepare to welcome our humble King to the altar under the veil of bread and wine. Each Mass is a mini Palm Sunday when we cry out to our Lord to save us, as we cry out with joy, and as we cry out with welcome as He enters His assembly anew, just as He did on that Sunday in Jerusalem only days before His death.
The historical events of Holy Week come down to us so many centuries later in the words of the Scriptures, and communicated to us by way of our most ancient Christian rituals of worship, which are repeated continually. In fact, for those of us who have heard the stories of the Last Supper, the trial, the crucifixion, and the death of Jesus so many times, there is always the danger that this week becomes something of a springtime routine. Or, worse, that we fall into the trap of thinking that the symbols of the liturgy are precisely that: mere symbols that do not really communicate any historical reality.
It is impossible to overstate the impact that the dramatic events in the last days of Jesus’ life had on His first followers. The powerful story of the Passion Narrative, and the careful creation and preservation of such ancient liturgical rituals to memorialize it, shows that the early Church had encountered something that was life changing for them. It is clear that the events we celebrate this week are historical, real, and powerful, even if some of the details may have been lost to us.
The goal of this week, and its celebrations, is to allow us to encounter the bold reality of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Messiah, the only Son of the Father, the Lamb of God, and the King of Kings. He is the merciful face of God who brings reconciliation to the human race as He cancels out all of our offenses on the wood of the Cross. He is no mere figment of the imaginations of some 1st Century Palestinians, and He is also not merely a historical figure of some distant era.
Jesus, obedient to the Father even unto death, is Lord of our own century, just as He was Lord back then. Let us clear away all that is distracting this Holy Week so that we can encounter Him in Glory. May He come and save us anew.