Yesterday was a beautiful day. You simply couldn’t ask for a lovelier Palm Sunday. Since the procession begins outside in the courtyard, I sat down by the columbarium to read a bit before the liturgy began. It’s interesting to ponder those lives: where & how they grew up, what their school rooms looked like, who their teachers were, what they dreamed about, what they struggled with, all their discoveries, all the travels they made, attempts, failures, joys, fears, sorrows, reflections, loves. All that was present to them once is now hidden in the past, now undiscoverable, at least from an earthly viewpoint. So will my life be. So will yours. In faith, we can say that they, along with everything they were & did, all belong to God, now. Ultimately, everything belongs to God.
As Father alluded to in his homily, there are 2 formal liturgical processions in the Church calendar – Palm Sunday & Easter Vigil. I think there may be a bit of confusion about this rite. It seems that Palm Sunday is treated as a sort of Easter warm-up, with the gathering outside, the singing, the palms – all festive. But the hint of Easter joy was on Laetare Sunday, not today. Also, the contrasting clash between the joyful procession & the tearful Passion read aloud later is striking. This procession is more like a New Orleans funeral march. We welcome the Lord, but to his death; a death ultimately caused by our sins, but a death that liberates us from them. What sort of ritual action can make this mystery clear? Perhaps this is simply an irreconcilable mystery.
The Palm Procession from the Old Rite is very similar, but with some notable differences – there is far more singing, all ancient hymns like Hosanna filio David. The priest reads the Gospel, sprinkles the palms, & distributes them individually – each person kneeling, receiving the palm with a kiss, & then kissing the hand of the priest, a hand consecrated to touch the Holy Things, the hand of Christ who gives us all things. While this seems odd to people raised in the New Rite, in the Old Rite the servers kiss any object received from the hand of the priest & then the hand itself. St. Thomas Aquinas said that Baptism “deputes us to cult”, that is, we are enabled & permitted to worship properly only through baptism. Even our ability to worship is a gift from God. So, it them makes sense that the blessed & sprinkled palms are given to us by Christ so that we can then use them to praise him.
This day also tells us something about our nature – how difficult it is for us to recognize & desire true & good things. We do not want to change; we want everything to change for us. We don’t want to take the time to come into understanding of a mystery; we want everything to be immediately apparent. I think this is a problem in the New Rite, at least the way it is commonly celebrated, the problematic ideology that people bring with them to it. It is impossible that man can ever understand God. God has revealed enough of himself for us to desire him, to approach him; but to say “understand” is simply self-delusion. The temptation is to turn away from the Mystery & reduce God to a formula, a ritual, or an intellectual proposition. It can lead to indifference. Instead we must continuously re-engage the Mystery, straining forward. The heart of God is impossible to reach, but as we strain forward we become more like that heart, more desirous to be in that love. Even as it shows itself in shadowy wisps & disguised messengers to us now, it is no less real or desirous.
This whole week is about Mystery. I hope I am able to participate in the Church’s liturgies of this week, & I pray for the time for prayerful reflection on their meanings. I pray that at least a part of me will be able to detach from the daily routine to joyfully & thankfully rest in the Mystery of Salvation.