The celebration of the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Mass this Sunday is coupled with the proclamation of his Passion in the Liturgy of the Word. The passion, this year from the Gospel according to Mark, recounts the events from just before the Last Supper to Jesus’ death on the cross.
Our Lenten journey is coming to its end – “end” in the sense of goal not conclusion. At the end of Holy Week we will celebrate, in depth, the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. This mystery lies at the heart of our faith. Through baptism we are incorporated into the death of Jesus. We become one with him in his death and we inherit the promise of resurrection.
The Lenten season affords us a time of penance. During this season our prayer, fasting and almsgiving have helped to stir up in ourselves sorrow and contrition for our sins. As we hear the passion proclaimed, we see the One innocent man, the One in whom there is no sin, take up our sins onto that cross.
Hearing the passion, we may be tempted to look into the past. Perhaps we might think in terms of an historical event distant from us. Perhaps we might think of persons who lived long ago. Yet our celebration is now.
The reality of the cross is made present in our celebration. Jesus died once but the effects of his offering permeate the years to the present. His complete faithfulness to the Father is an act of love. His willingly taking on the forces of evil all the way to the end is an act of love. His self-offering and self-sacrifice is an act of love. His love is also a manifestation of God’s mercy.
The outpouring of mercy on the cross is reflected in the veil of the sanctuary being torn in two “from top to bottom” at the moment of Jesus’ death. This is a reference to the veil that covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the Temple in Jerusalem. The veil was opened only one time annually for the high priest to enter to offer sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. The Arc of the Covenant held the “mercy seat” near which the offering was made.
The significance of the tearing of the veil from “top to bottom” is that with Jesus’ death the sin of man is forgiven. God’s mercy flows from the cross. Healing is accomplished. The power of death (which is the outcome of sin) is destroyed and will be manifest in Jesus’ resurrection.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is indeed a mystery. The 40 days of Lent help us enter into this mystery. Hearing the passion this Sunday we are reduced to silence and awe at the greatness of his love and mercy.
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.
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