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Father Muench Says...

The holiest week of the year begins

March 21, 2018

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I would like to share with you some ideas about the liturgy for Palm Sunday. 

Each year, priests throughout our diocese carefully plan, with their liturgy committees, a proper liturgy for Palm Sunday.  Palm Sunday, of course, begins the most important week of our Church year.  This week is called holy – Holy Week – the holiest week of the year.

During Holy Week, our Catholic Church celebrates our salvation through the sufferings, the death and the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus. 

Each day of Holy Week is special: on Holy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, on Good Friday, we celebrate the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus and, on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Easter Vigil, a powerful ceremony during which we joyfully celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.

To begin Holy Week properly we need a liturgy like Palm Sunday.  In many ways, this liturgy is emotionally challenging.  We begin this liturgy by rejoicing with Jesus as we remember his triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem.  Then during the Mass we sadly read the Gospel of the Passion and Death of Jesus.

The Palm Sunday Liturgy begins with a procession to remind us of Jesus’ entrance into the city.  We rejoice as we stand with the people on that first Palm Sunday as they praise Jesus.  At that time, it was Passover.  This was a time when large numbers of people came from all over the world to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. 

To find a place to stay over, many would set up camping facilities on the outskirts of the city.  Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey passing through these crowds of people.  Realizing that it was Jesus, they welcomed him with songs and placing their cloaks and tree branches in his path.

In our liturgy, after listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ entrance, we process to the Church, walking with Jesus, singing and carrying palm branches to celebrate his presence.  In some places, the people carry branches from the local trees. 

Our procession is a joyful moment – a time for us to express our love and faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.  In the Church, we begin our Mass and the tone of the liturgy changes – our attention turns to our Lord’s crucifixion.

The Gospel reading for this Mass is the reading of Christ’s Passion.  Each of the Gospel writers wrote a large, detailed section of several chapters, telling the story of Jesus’ sufferings.  Each year we read from a different evangelist.  We listen again this year to the sufferings that Jesus endured and the details of the crucifixion.

As we listen we are walking again with the Lord and standing at his cross.

Each year the question that hounds me is why.  Why did our Jesus have to suffer so much? I have had the answer described to me often so I know the answer, but it still saddens me.  I realize that the Passion demonstrates to all God’s great love for us.  God loves us – unconditionally – despite our sinfulness.  God loves us passionately. 

God chooses to love us – we are God’s sons and daughters.  Jesus came to be with us and die for us to demonstrate God’s love.

Then, our liturgy proceeds to the Eucharist as we express our gratitude to God.  Our Eucharist celebrates our gratitude for Jesus’ incarnation, he lived among us and died for us. 

Our Holy Week leads us to the joy of the resurrection of the Lord as we move to Easter.  The ceremonies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter make us aware of God’s great love for us.  Jesus loved and dedicated himself to care for us.  We become more aware of how grateful we much be.

Palm Sunday is the beginning.  Holy Week is a journey; we will walk with Jesus on his way to Calvary so that we can rise with him to a new life in the Resurrection.  Easter Sunday is such a joyful time for us all.

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