|Devotion to Our Lady||
Did You Realize?
Yesterday, you were given a palm at your local church. You received the palm in the palm of your hand! You took the palm home with you—but did you reflect upon the significance of all this? The palm, of course, is the symbol of our heavenly reward—we speak of “the palm of martyrdom”, don’t we? Yet how many persons entered into that line of thought yesterday? The reward is not without labor! There is no Heaven without suffering and the Cross! We could say: “No Cross, No Crown! No Thorns, No Throne! No Gall, No Glory!” We need to enter Heaven with a “wedding garment” and that wedding garment, more often than not, will be soaked with sweat and blood. This is what Jesus entered into to Jerusalem to do on that first ‘Palm Sunday’—He had come to suffer and die, not to celebrate and rule.
The Honeymoon Before the Hell
Early in the morning of this day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus, at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive today in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosannas to the Son of David, while throwing palms, the symbols of triumph, in His path; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome’s emperor, and of the high priests and Pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.
Humble Entry on Humble Animals
The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Savior. He is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.” (Zacharias 9:9). Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfillment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him an ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Beth phage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.
Tamed For Christ By Christ
The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass is a beast of burden; the horse is a beast of war. Our Lord chose the burden rather than the battle—but by carrying the burden of His Cross, He would win the battle! The ass also represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; whereas the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat (Mark 11:2), is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence: the Jews will be rejected, for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God’s people, and become docile and faithful.
Triumph Now, Tragedy Later
The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Savior, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him (Mark 11:7; Luke 19:35), and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet Our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King (Luke 19:38). They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm-trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.
Thus did God, in His power over men’s hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamor for His Blood. This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations: but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second, from the Jews. Both were to pay Him this regal homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate’s order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: “What I have written, I have written.”
The Reign Begins, the Revolution Brews
Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King: they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her: “The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever” (Luke 1:32). Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.
This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of doors. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of today, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse. Let us look at the Palms and the Procession.
1. The Palms
The first is the blessing of the palms; and we may have an idea of its importance from the solemnity used by the Church in this sacred rite. One would suppose that the holy Sacrifice has begun, and is going to be offered up in honor of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, even a Preface, are said, as though we were, as usual, preparing for the immolation of the spotless Lamb; but, after the triple Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus! The Church suspends these sacrificial formulas, and turns to the blessing of the palms.
The prayers she uses for this blessing are eloquent and full of instruction; and, together with the sprinkling with holy water and the incensation, impart a virtue to these branches, which elevates them to the supernatural order, and makes them means for the sanctification of our souls and the protection of our persons and dwellings. The faithful should hold these palms in their hands during the procession, and during the reading of the Passion at Mass, and keep them in their homes as an outward expression of their faith, and as a pledge of God’s watchful love.
It is scarcely necessary to say that the palms or olive branches, thus blessed, are carried in memory of those wherewith the people of Jerusalem strewed the road, as our Savior made His triumphant entry; but a word on the antiquity of our ceremony will not be superfluous. It began very early in the east. It is probable that, as far as Jerusalem itself is concerned, the custom was established immediately after the ages of persecution. St. Cyril, who was bishop of that city in the fourth century, tells us that the palm-tree, from which the people cut the branches when they went out to meet our Savior, was still to be seen in the valley of Cedron (Cateches. x. versus fin.) Such a circumstance would naturally suggest an annual commemoration of the great event. In the following century, we find this ceremony established, not only in the churches of the east, but also in the monasteries of Egypt and Syria.
Lent in the Desert
At the beginning of Lent, many of the holy monks obtained permission from their abbots to retire into the desert, that they might spend the sacred season in strict seclusion; but they were obliged to return to their monasteries for Palm Sunday, as we learn from the life of Saint Euthymius, written by his disciple Cyril. In the west, the introduction of this ceremony was more gradual; the first trace we find of it is in the sacramentary of St. Gregory, that is, at the end of the sixth, or the beginning of the seventh, century. When the faith had penetrated into the north, it was not possible to have palms or olive branches; they were supplied by branches from other trees. The beautiful prayers used in the blessing, and based on the mysteries expressed by the palm and olive trees, are still employed in the blessing of our willow, box, or other branches; and rightly, for these represent the symbolical ones which nature has denied us.
2. The Procession
The second of today’s ceremonies is the procession, which comes immediately after the blessing of the palms. It represents our Savior’s journey to Jerusalem, and His entry into the city. To make it the more expressive, the branches that have just been blessed are held in the hand during it. With the Jews, to hold a branch in one’s hand was a sign of joy. The divine law had sanctioned this practice, as we read in the following passage from Leviticus, where God commands His people to keep the feast of tabernacles: And you shall take to you, on the first day, the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm-trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God (Leviticus 23:40). It was, therefore, to testify their delight at seeing Jesus enter within their walls, that the inhabitants, even the little children, of Jerusalem, went forth to meet Him with palms in their hands. Let us, also, go before our King, singing our hosannas to Him as the conqueror of death, and the liberator of His people.
During the middle ages, it was the custom, in many churches, to carry the book of the holy Gospels in this procession. The Gospel contains the words of Jesus Christ, and was considered to represent Him. The procession halted at an appointed place, or station: the deacon then opened the sacred volume, and sang from it the passage which describes Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem. This done, the cross which, up to this moment, was veiled, was uncovered; each of the clergy advanced towards it, venerated it, and placed at its foot a small portion of the palm he held in his hand. The procession then returned, preceded by the cross, which was left unveiled until all had re-entered the church. In England and Normandy, as far back as the eleventh century, there was practiced a holy ceremony which represented, even more vividly than the one we have just been describing, the scene that was witnessed on this day at Jerusalem: the blessed Sacrament was carried in procession.
A touching ceremony was also practiced in Jerusalem during today’s procession, and, like those just mentioned, was intended to commemorate the event related by the Gospel. The whole community of the Franciscans (to whose keeping the holy places are entrusted) went in the morning to Bethphage. There, the father guardian of the holy Land, being vested in pontifical robes, mounted upon an ass, on which garments were laid. Accompanied by the friars and the Catholics of Jerusalem, all holding palms in their hands, he entered the city, and alighted at the church of the holy sepulcher where Mass was celebrated with all possible solemnity.
This beautiful ceremony, which dated from the period of the Latin kingdom in Jerusalem, has been forbidden, for now almost two hundred years, by the Turkish authorities of the city.
We have mentioned these different usages, as we have done others on similar occasions, in order to aid the faithful to the better understanding of the several mysteries of the liturgy. In the present instance, they will learn that, in today’s procession, the Church wishes us to honor Jesus Christ as though He were really among us, and were receiving the humble tribute of our loyalty. Let us lovingly go forth to meet this our King, our Savior, who comes to visit the daughter of Sion, as the prophet has just told us. He is in our midst; it is to Him that we pay honor with our palms: let us give Him our hearts too. He comes that He may be our King; let us welcome Him as such, and fervently cry out to Him: “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
At the close of the procession a ceremony takes place, which is full of the most sublime symbolism. On returning to the church, the doors are found to be shut. The triumphant procession is stopped; but the songs of joy are continued. A hymn in honor of Christ our King is sung with its joyous chorus; and at length the subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the cross; the door opens, and the people, preceded by the clergy, enter the church, proclaiming the praise of Him, who is our resurrection and our life.
This ceremony is intended to represent the entry of Jesus into that Jerusalem of which the earthly one was but the figure — the Jerusalem of heaven, which has been opened for us by our Savior. The sin of our first parents had shut it against us; but Jesus, the King of glory, opened its gates by His cross, to which every resistance yields. Let us, then, continue to follow in the footsteps of the Son of David, for He is also the Son of God, and He invites us to share His kingdom with Him. Thus, by the procession, which is commemorative of what happened on this day, the Church raises up our thoughts to the glorious mystery of the Ascension, whereby heaven was made the close of Jesus’ mission on earth. Alas! the interval between these two triumphs of our Redeemer are not all days of joy; and no sooner is our procession over, than the Church, who had laid aside for a moment the weight of her grief, falls back into sorrow and mourning.
The Week of Weeks
We find it called also by other names: St. John Chrysostom calls it the "Great Week" — “Not,” says the holy doctor, “that it has more days in it than other weeks, or that its days are made up of more hours than other days; but we call it great, because of the great mysteries which are then celebrated.”
It is also called the “Painful Week” (hebdomada poenosa), on account of the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the fatigue required from us in celebrating them and in assisting at them. The length of ceremonies can be as much two or three times as longer than the time we are accustomed to spending in Church on a normal week. In addition, we may find ourselves going to church several times during this Week, especially on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. For the worldly-minded, who are forced to attend with parents or a more religious spouse, this can be a really painful week!
Another, lesser known name, is that of the “Week of Indulgence”, because, in ancient times, sinners were to receive forgiveness and penance during this time. The hour of their reconciliation had arrived and the severe penances and public humiliations were to come to an end. A resurrection from sin was approaching.
It is also called “Holy Week”, in reference to the holiness of the mysteries which are commemorated during these seven days. This last name--“Holy Week”-- is the one under which it most generally known by us; and the very days themselves are, in many countries, called by the same name, Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday.
The End is Nigh!
The past weeks of Lent have been but a preparation for the intense grief of the Church during this Holy Week. Holy Mother Church knows that men are in search of her Jesus, and that they are bent on His death. Before the week is over, she will see them lay their sacrilegious hands upon Him. She will have to follow Him up the hill of Calvary; she will have to receive His last breath; she will witness the stone placed against the sepulcher where His lifeless Body will be laid. We cannot, therefore, be surprised at Holy Mother Church inviting all her children to contemplate, during this “Great Week”, this “Painful Week”, this Holy Week, Him who is the object of all her love and all her sadness.
Weep For Yourself
But our Mother asks something more of us than compassion and tears; she wants us to profit by the lessons we are to be taught by the Passion and Death of our Redeemer. He himself, when going up to Calvary, said to the holy women, who had the courage to show their compassion, even before His very executioners: “Weep not over Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). It was not that He refused the tribute of their tears, for He was pleased with this proof of their affection; but it was His love for them that made Him speak thus. He desired, above all, to see them appreciate the importance of what they were witnessing, and learn from it how inexorable is God’s justice against sin. Do we appreciate the importance of Holy Week? Do we understand what we are witnessing?
The tone of the prayers and rites of these this holiest of weeks, is a profound grief at seeing the just One persecuted by His enemies even to death, and an energetic indignation against the deicide. The words that express these two feelings are, for the most part, taken from David and the Prophets. The chastisement that is to befall the Jewish nation is prophesied in all its frightful details; and on the last three days, we shall hear the prophet Jeremias uttering his lamentations over the faithless city. The Church does not aim at exciting idle superficial sentiments; what she principally seeks, is to plant in the hearts of her children a salutary fear. If Jerusalem’s crime and punishment strikes us with horror, and if we feel that we have partaken in her sin, then our sorrow will rend our hearts and tears will flow in abundance.
The Seed of Conversion Must Bear Fruit
During the preceding weeks of Lent, the Church has been leading the sinner to his conversion; but this is only the beginning of things. The Church wants the seed to grow and become perfect and bear good fruit: “God hath given him place for penance, and he abuseth it unto pride … Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance … Do penance: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand … Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Job 24:23; Luke 3:8; Matthew 3:2; Luke 13:3). The harvest of the fruits of penance rapidly approaches! What quality of fruit and what quantity of fruit do I have in the basket of my soul?
At the start of Lent, Holy Mother Church showed us Jesus fasting and praying in the desert—but this not a spectator sport—the Church, after having shown us “how it is done”, expects us to enter the life-long apprenticeship of penance. The fatal hour is at hand; the powers of darkness are preparing to make use of the little time that is still left; the greatest of crimes is about to be perpetrated. A few days more and the Son of God is to be betrayed, by His own, in the hands of sinners, and they will put Him to death. The Church no longer needs to urge her children to repentance; she hopes that they know only too well, by now, what sin must be, when it could require such expiation as this. She is all absorbed in the thought of the terrible event, which is to end the life of the God-Man on earth; and by expressing her thoughts through the holy liturgy, she teaches us what our own sentiments should be.
The severity of the Lenten fast is increased during these its last days; the whole energy of the spirit of penance is now brought out. There was a time, when we were more serious about penance, that the dispensation which allows the use of eggs ceased towards the middle of this week. The eastern Churches, for a long time were still faithful to their ancient traditions, and used to keep up a most rigorous abstinence ever since the Monday of Quinquagesima week. During the whole of this long period. which they call Xerophagia, they were allowed nothing but dry food. In the early ages, fasting during Holy Week was carried to the utmost limits that human nature could endure. We learn from St. Epiphanius, that there were some of the Christians who observed a strict fast from Monday morning to cock-crow of Easter Sunday.
Of course it must have been very few of the faithful who could go so far as this. Many passed two, three, and even four consecutive days, without tasting any food; but the general practice was to fast from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter morning. Some Christians in the east, and in Russia, observe this fast even in these times. Would that such severe penance were always accompanied by a firm faith and union with the Church, out of which the merit of such penitential works is of no avail for salvation!
Long Hours in Prayer
Another of the ancient practices of Holy Week were the long hours spent, during the night, in the churches. On Maundy Thursday, after having celebrated the divine mysteries in remembrance of the Last Supper, the faithful continued a long time in prayer. The night between Friday and Saturday was spent in almost uninterrupted vigil, in honor of Our Lord's burial. But the longest of all these vigils was that of Saturday, which was kept up till Easter Sunday morning. The whole congregation joined in it: they assisted at the final preparation of the catechumens, as also at the administration of Baptism; nor did they leave the church until after the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice, which was not over till sunrise.
Cessation from servile work was, for a long time, an obligation during Holy Week. The civil law united with that of the Church in order to bring about this solemn rest from toil and business, which so eloquently expresses the state of mourning of the Christian world. The thought of the sufferings and death of Jesus was the one pervading thought: the Divine Offices and prayer were the sole occupation of the people: and, indeed, all the strength of the body was needed for the support of the austerities of fasting and abstinence. We can readily understand what an impression was made upon the minds of men, during the whole of the rest of the year, by this universal suspension of the ordinary routine of life. Moreover, when we call to mind how, for five full weeks, the severity of Lent had waged war on the sensual appetites, we can imagine the simple and honest joy wherewith was welcomed the feast of Easter, which brought both the regeneration of the soul, and respite to the body.
No Time For Stoppages Today!
In ancient times, all business stopped during Holy Week—for it was time to attend to the business of the salvation of one’s own soul. “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Today, who cares about the soul? It is business and money and worldly activity that is at the top of the neo-pagan totem pole! Holy Week is a mere afterthought — it comes in second, or third, or fourth or even last place. Some will say: "All that religious stuff is nice, but I have a life to lead, a family to feed, a boss to heed! Look! I’ll do what I can! But get real! This is the 21st century and life cannot come to a stop because of some Holy Week!!"
Yes, this is the 21st century, of which St. Paul writes: “The Spirit manifestly saith, that in the last times some shall depart from the Faith, giving heed to spirits of error, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, ungrateful, wicked, stubborn, puffed up, and lovers of pleasures more than of God: having an appearance indeed of godliness, but denying the power thereof. Now these avoid” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
No Fun Week!
To these worldlings, Holy Week is a “Party-Pooper Week”! If they are in any way surrounded by good Christians, then their desires for worldliness will be dampened this Week. If they are forced to participate in any of the ceremonies, then they will they will suffer like the Bad Thief on Calvary, wishing that they were not nailed or tied down to this “Funless Week” and will pine for a chance to escape from this “Boring Week” that “is killing me!”
Let us, therefore, not fall into the trap of the superficial piety of these modern times and these worldly people. Let us reflect profoundly and at great length upon the love and affection shown by the Son of God in giving up His life for our sins: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). “In this we have known the charity of God, because He hath laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
Laying Down Things for Christ
What we can lay down this Holy Week are the great multitude of non-essential things to which we are tied—like Gulliver, in the famous book Gulliver’s Travels, was tied down and immobilized by many tiny threads, which the tiny 6-inch tall people of Lilliput wrapped around him. The world, likewise, wraps its little threads of attachment around us, and there are so many of them, that we cannot break free. Thus one Holy Week after another comes year after year, and we do little or nothing because of those ‘ties’ or ‘attachments’ to the world. Sad!
The worldly know the words of Scripture—“Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice” (Luke 12:31) and “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30)—but they just can’t be bothered to do so! “God will understand,” they presumptuously rationalize, “He is good and kind and merciful and all-forgiving!”
Let us break free of this tiny threads and lay aside the TV and internet (unless it concerns something related to Holy Week and the Passion), let us not waste time on forums, in newspapers, sports, hobbies, etc. Is all that cooking for Easter really more important than the spiritual side of things? Does that socializing—chatting after Mass, or social visits to homes—really take precedence over ‘socializing’ with Christ? As Our Lord will say to His Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?”