Fr James Murphy
If asked the question, “What do you associate with Palm Sunday?” I suspect many people would respond with something like, “It is the day we get palm and we have a long gospel at Mass.” It is a simple but accurate summary of the liturgy on this day.
Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, and the day we commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for the last time. It was a triumphant journey with the “great crowds” spreading their cloaks on the road and “cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in his path,” as St. Matthew tells us in today’s gospel. When we hold the palm today we too honour and worship Jesus, the Son of God. Today’s ceremony reminds us of the priority of worship. In every Mass we worship Almighty God and implore His protection and blessings through His son Jesus Christ.
“The long gospel” is the account of the Passion of Jesus, this year according to St. Mark. We will also hear St. John’s account of it on Good Friday. I have been unable to access the liturgical reason for two accounts of the Passion of our Lord in a short space of time, but perhaps on Palm Sunday we are given the opportunity to reflect on it in a more relaxed way without the intensity of the Easter Triduum. Raymond E. Brown says, “We readers or hearers should participate by asking ourselves how we would have stood in relation to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. With which character in the narrative would I identify myself? The disciples who fled from danger … Peter denying Jesus … even Judas betraying him … Pilate trying to avoid a decision between good and evil … or might I have stood among the religious leaders who condemned Jesus?”
Whatever individual or group we could identify with it is good to remember the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas that “Jesus by his passion merited salvation not only for himself, but for all who are his members as well.” The passion of Jesus was an essential part of our salvation, and so in spite of our weaknesses he has enabled us to one day worship God eternally in Heaven.