Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, March 25.)

The liturgy today is called “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.” If the entrance with procession or solemn entrance is used, a Gospel passage will be proclaimed marking Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The two choices are Mark 11:1-10 and John 12:12-16. Both accounts recall Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The crowds acclaim “Hosanna” as Jesus enters the city.

The first reading for the Mass today is from the prophet Isaiah. The reading recalls the prophet’s steadfast “listening” to the Lord – “Morning after morning he [the Lord] opens my ear that I may hear …” The prophet accepts the word of the Lord despite the trials and tribulations. He says: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my checks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

The reading concludes with a confession of faith – “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” The reading helps prepare us for the proclamation of the Passion. The faithfulness and conviction of the prophet is amplified in Jesus’ passion.

During his public ministry, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his passion. We are following Mark’s account this year. In that account, Jesus specifically and clearly tells the disciples three times that he must suffer and die. He clearly understands what is coming. The tremendous weight that he carries on the journey to Jerusalem can not be overlooked, nor the great contrast to the triumphal entry with what is about to unfold.

The psalm helps prepare us as well. The refrain “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is actually the first verse of Psalm 22. The psalmist proclaims his suffering, one that foreshadows Jesus’ own in the Passion. For example, the mocking experienced by the psalmist — “He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him” — finds similarity with the words of the bystanders at the cross: “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.”

Another example is found later in the psalm:  “They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.” On the cross, Jesus utters the refrain just before he dies. Taken alone, the verse might seem despairing,  but it is not. Rather, Jesus utters only the first line of the psalm; exhausted and at the point of death, he cannot continue. We, however, do complete the psalm, which ends not in a proclamation of despair or even lament, but rather in a declaration of praise and trust in the Lord: “But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me. I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: ‘You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel!’”

The second reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. The passage is frequently called the “Philippians Hymn.” The hymn, which some scholars believe to have predated Paul’s letter, sings the praises of Jesus who empties himself in humble obedience. His faithfulness to the Father is perfect – even to the point of death itself, “death on a cross.” Because of his faithfulness, God raises him up and exalts him, bestowing “on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

The proclamation of the Passion of the Lord is from the Gospel of St. Mark. The account begins two days before Passover with the plotting of the “chief priests and scribes.” We then hear of the woman anointing Jesus with the costly perfumed oil, the institution of the Eucharist, the betrayal by Judas, the agony in the garden, the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death and burial. As the account proceeds, we listen in humble, solemn thanksgiving for the love poured out by God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.