After following “Living Rite” for a number of years, most of our readers would do quite well with “Liturgy 101, Listing the Order of the Mass.” There is the procession, opening rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Communion, dismissal rites. That is how it happens, Mass after Mass, week after week.
However, once a year, on Palm Sunday, it seems we get our cue cards all wrong. We begin by shouting “hosaana in the highest” and we end by shouting “crucify him!” We play the part of the crowds who hail Jesus as king, and we play the part of the crowds who called for his execution as a criminal. The paradox is brilliant because we are ambivalent about the path that Jesus invites us to take.
Because the liturgy of that day is such a paradox, the church has had difficulty giving it a name. Until 1954, the name of the sixth Sunday of Lent was “Palm Sunday.” In 1955, the name became, for 15 years only, “second Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday.” In 1970, it became “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.”
The lack of “order” is apparent right from the beginning. Depending on what Mass we attend, the gathering may occur somewhere away from the church proper. We don’t begin with a processional, Father simply begins the rite. Palms are blessed and we experience a “liturgy of the word” consisting of a Gospel and homily. Then, we decide to have a procession. Our actions almost mimic the early followers of Jesus. They simply showed up, sat and listened to his words and then having become inspired by what he said and did, followed after him in great exuberance.
Then a strange thing happens, it is almost like we are starting over. Another Liturgy of the Word appears to occur, this time the focus is on the Passion of Jesus as it is recorded in one of the Gospels. It seems strange, just a few minutes ago we were waving palms and now the church is hushed into a subdued mood. We still see the flashes of red all around our church, the masses of green palms, the fresh scent rising from the palms we are holding in our hands and yet we are about to hear the story, that as it is given this day, will not have a good ending. We will be left with the lifeless body of Jesus laid in a tomb.
Pay attention. Will the tone of the liturgy shift after the proclamation of the Passion? Will you begin to hear instruments drop out until the community is singing a cappella? Well, the tone of hymns change from triumph to those of impending sorrow. Will your community exit in silence, setting aside the usual friendly chatter that accompanies people making their way to the parking lot on any other liturgy?
Palm Sunday is like a mini glimpse into Holy Week. It began with Jesus surrounded by loving followers and ends on the somber note of the Passion. There is one major difference however, and it is for that reason you should make it a priority to be at Holy Week services. Unlike our Palm Sunday departure, where Jesus is left lying in tomb, Holy Saturday night will tell the rest of the story, when we will hear the magnificent ending, Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.