Everyone loves a parade. As we gather this Palm Sunday weekend to begin Holy Week, we will be reminded that the parade into Jerusalem ended abruptly, when those following Jesus realized that the final destination would be a cross.
Our liturgical ritual this weekend also begins with a parade, the Procession with Palms. I hope that we will not back down from the journey that will take us to the very foot of the cross. The liturgy you attend may begin in an area apart from the main church. Take note of whether the priest will be wearing a cope. The cope is a liturgical vestment that resembles a long cape, it can be any of the liturgical colors, but on Palm Sunday, it is red. Most copes are fastened by a very ornate clasp. The cope is one of the few priestly vestitures that has changed little in design since the late 700s.
The ritual will begin with the blessing of the palms. As you see the fresh palm you may have thoughts of workers in the Holy Land harvesting the palm trees for the very branches. However, in all likelihood, your palms have come from fields in Florida or Texas, the primary producers of palms in the United States.
As the ceremony continues, you will hear the Gospel story of Jesus’ glorious, high energy entrance into Jerusalem and we too will join our voices in Hosanna as we process with Jesus. This formal procession is held at only one of the Masses (the principal Mass). At the other Masses, a procession involving all of the people will not take place. You may witness what is called the second form, the solemn entrance. Most likely you will be seated within the church, holding your palms. The opening rites will begin within the church from some part aside from the sanctuary. The priest, minsters and a select number from the assembly will take part in the actual procession. One additional form, the simple entrance, also may be used. This rite differs very little from a Sunday liturgy. The Gospel story of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalm is not heard, but the Passion is proclaimed. Usually at this form of the liturgy, palms that were blessed at a previous Mass are made available for people to take on their way out of the church.
At any of the Palm Sunday Masses you attend, the Passion will be a turning point and stark reminder of how quickly people changed from proclaiming Jesus, King and Messiah to calling for Jesus to be condemned and crucified. Following the proclamation of the Passion, the liturgy will continue in the more somber tone of Passiontide which has given us the formal title of this weekend’s celebration: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. It is the gate to our holiest of weeks.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in Oshkosh.