Friday, 27 March 2015

Palm Sunday by James Luke Meagher

Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday is also called the Sunday of the Boughs, because of the branches we carry in our hands; it is named Hosanna Sunday, because of the triumphant cry of the Jews ; it is called Flower Sunday because Easter, which is but eight days coming, is like the flower of the year. As a remembrance of this Sunday, the Spaniards, when they discovered the coast of Florida, on Palm Sunday, called it Florida, the Spanish for flowers, in honor of the feast of our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. 1

Again, it is called the Sunday of washing the heads, because on this day in ancient times those preparing for baptism on Holy Saturday, washed their heads for the Holy Oils. It is called the Sunday of the Admitted, for on this day those who were prepared for baptism were admitted to the Mass till the Canon; while by the Greeks it is called by a word which means to carry palms.

Palm Sunday is thus named from the Jews taking branches of palm from the trees and strewing them in the way, and carrying them in their hands as they came with Jesus into the city, crying, " Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name 01 the Lord." 2 As a remembrance of our Lord's triumphant entry into the holy city each year we celebrate Palm Sunday. On the 20th of March, 3 when the Lord and his disciples were going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of the Pasch, they came to Bethphage, a little village on the side of the Mount of Olives. From there he sent two of his disciples into the village, telling them to bring him an ass and her colt. Going they found them as he said, and brought them to him. Placing their garments on the colt, which was never rode before, the Saviour rode the animal into the city of Jerusalem, 4 as foretold by the prophet. 5 According to the custom of the Jews, great crowds had come to celebrate the feast. Spreading their garments in the way, and breaking boughs of palm, they spread them in the road, and all cried: " Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. 6 Blessed be the kingdom of our Father David that cometh, Hosanna in the highest." 7

From the oldest traditions we learn that the ass, the mother of the colt which had been used to being ridden, signified the Jewish people, who had been used to the law of God, who were, as it were, the mother of the Christian Church, and the colt which had not been broken typified the Gentiles, who had not received the law. 8 Our "Lord, taking the colt in place of the mother, foretold the choosing of the Gentiles, who were to be called to the law of God in place of the Jews who were rejected. Hosanna is a Hebrew word signifying about the same as our English hurrah, and means an exclamation rather than a thing. 9 Such was the word used by the Israelites in honoring any of their public men. 10 " Hosanna to the Son of David," tells of his human nature. "Hosanna in the highest," proclaimed his divine nature ; thus inspired by the Holy Spirit they honored him as God and man. They carried branches of palm, for that was the custom of the Jews as laid down in the law of Moses for the celebration of the Feast of the 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." 11 The Mount of Olives, along which our Lord passed on his way to Jerusalem, was covered with palm trees. 12 Palm signifies peace 13 among all the people of the East, 14 and thus with palms of peace the Jews saluted the Prince of Peace coming to be offered up as a sacrifice to God for the peace of the world. The Jews celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles with branches of palm, not only in memory of their deliverance from Egypt, but also to prefigure the coming of the future Messiah, who was to deliver them from all their enemies. Palm signifies victory, for that reason the martyrs are represented with palms in their hands. He rode upon an ass after the custom of princes and the nobles of the Jews, 15 for they did not use horses. 16

In honor and in remembrance of this triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, in the last year of his life, and on the Sunday before his death, we celebrate each year the solemnities of Palm Sunday. We find that this custom of celebrating Palm Sunday comes down from the most ancient times—from the days of the apostles. 17 It is found in the calendars of the Church in the IVth century. 18 It is seen in the sacramentaries of Pope Gelasius and of Gregory the Great. It is mentioned in the most ancient Missals, in the oldest Ceremonials and Liturgical works which have remained to us since the times of the destruction of the Roman Empire, when so many books were destroyed by the barbarians of the North. They all speak of Palm Sunday. 19

In former times those converts who had been prepared for baptism asked to be received into the Church, and they were not told to leave after the gospel, but on Palm Sunday they were allowed to remain during Mass till the celebrant began the Canon, while the others were sent away at the Offertory. 20 To-day also their heads were washed, 21 which was not done since receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday.

Among the churches of the Oriental nations they bring a whole palm tree into the church, where it is blessed and carried in the procession. Then they all tear its branches off and carry them to their homes. 22

The ceremonies of Palm Sunday are very ancient and go back to the most remote ages. In the IVth century, St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, tells us that the palm tree from which the Jews in the time of our Lord broke the branches, was growing in his time in the valley of the Cedron. 23 That is not surprising when we know how long trees will live. In the following century we find that the ceremonies of Palm Sunday were carried out with great splendor in the churches of the East, and in the monasteries and the convents of Syria and of Egypt, with which the deserts of that time were peopled. At the beginning of Lent many of the holy monks were allowed by their superiors to pass the holy season of Lent amid the solitudes of the deserts, in fasting and in prayer, as in a deep and profound retreat. But they always came back to their monasteries on Palm Sunday. 24 We find Palm Sunday celebrated in all parts of Europe as soon as its nations were converted to the Gospel. In the Tilth century, when the missionaries from Rome and from Ireland had penetrated to the north of Europe, they found that the palm tree did not grow in these cold countries. Other branches then took the place of the palm, and the Church allowed cedar, box-wood, and laurel to be used in its stead, but the prayers were never changed, and to-day they are the same as in the most ancient times.

The ceremonies of Palm Sunday begin by the celebrant and ministers coming to the altar clothed in violet vestments, which they wore during the services of the Church since the beginning of Septuagesima Sunday, as a sign of fasting and of penance for their sins. At the corner of the altar the celebrant begins the services by the words of the Jews, when our Lord rode into Jerusalem, and a prayer for faith and hope in the Lord. He reads the Scriptures from the book of Exodus, which tells of the wonders of the Lord to the people of Israel at the fountains of waters and at the seventy palm trees, 25 followed by the history of our Lord entering Jerusalem in triumph, as given in the gospel. 26 The celebrant then blesses the palms with appropriate prayers, sprinkling them with holy water as a sign that they are washed from all bad influences, and become holy and clean for the services of the Church. 27 They are then incensed to show that they become like so many prayers of peace in the hands of all those who carry them. They are sprinkled with holy water three times incensed in honor of the three most holy persons of the Trinity.

The palms having been blessed with ceremonies, and with prayers and passages taken from the Bible relating to the triumphant entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, then the highest in dignity in the sanctuary gives a palm to the celebrant, who makes no genuflection nor kisses his hand, because the celebrant represents our Lord himself. Then the celebrant gives him a palm, who in taking it, kisses the hand of the celebrant. Then all come in their turn, the highest in dignity first, who genuflecting on their knees, receive the palm from the hands of the celebrant. During this time it is customary for one of the servers of Mass to distribute the palms to the people in the church. When all have received their palms the celebrant prays over them, asking God to give them the innocence of the children of Israel, who accompanied our Lord in his entry into Jerusalem.

Then the procession takes place while the choir sings of the triumphant entry of our Lord into the holy city. All go outside the church except two or four chanters, who sing a beautiful Latin hymn composed by Theodulphus, 28 the abbot, and which was sung by him in prison when the Emperor Louis the Pius passed in the procession on Palm Sunday. 29 Hearing him singing it, he restored to him his liberty. 30 Afterwards he became Bishop of Orleans.

When the hymn is ended, the sub-deacon strikes the door of the church with the staff of the cross, and the doors of the church are opened to the procession, which enters.

From the writers of the middle ages we learn the meaning of these rites and ceremonies. " The people of Jerusalem see an humble man riding on an ass and the colt of an ass, and nevertheless they celebrate his glorious triumph by carrying palms and strewing the way with their garments, singing to him their imperial praises, because in spirit they see in him the Conqueror over the devil and over death. This crowd, beloved brethren, by the living boughs typify the triumphant standard of the cross. And well they represent by the green branches what they will always live up to in their morals, what the winter cannot freeze, what the summer cannot wither,what they can say with the Psalmist, 'I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall ever be in my mouth.' 31 The branches of palm signify the victory which the Lord was to gain by his death conquering death, and by the standard of the cross overcoming the devil, the prince of death. The colt of the ass represented the simple hearts of the gentiles, who, by their conversion and obedience, came to the vision of peace in heaven. 32 " Thus since the dove brought the branch of olive, the olive and the palm have been signs of peace. The doors of the church are closed to tell us of paradise—closed to the human race by the sin of Adam. They are opened when struck by the cross in the hands of the sub-deacon, because heaven was opened to man by the cross 33 of Christ. 34

Jerusalem in holy scriptures is but a picture of heaven, and our Lord entering into that holy city on Palm Sunday, surrounded by his disciples and by the children of Israel, was but a figure of his glorious entry into heaven the day of his ascension, surrounded by all the souls of the holy ones of the Old Testament.

In some churches in the middle ages they used to carry with great pomp the Book of the Gospels in the processions, because it contains the words of our Lord. At a place on the way called a " Station," the deacon opened the holy Book and sang that part giving the story of the triumphant entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. The cross which had been covered with a veil from the vesper time before Passion Sunday, was then uncovered, and all kissed the image of the Crucified, while each placed his branch at the foot of the cross as an offering to the Saviour. Then all marched into the church in the usual manner. In England and in Normandy, in the Xlth century, after Berengarius had denied the Real Presence, they carried the Blessed Sacrament with great solemnity in the procession, as a lively protest against his errors, and that triumphant carrying of our Lord in the procession was but a foreshadowing of the procession of the feast of Corpus Christi and of the Forty Hours.

In the days of the crusades, Palm Sunday was celebrated with great ceremonies. The guardian of the holy land, with the religious orders and all the Catholics of Jerusalem, went in the morning to Bethphage,where taking palms in their hands, they entered the city in a great procession. Coming into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with the usual ceremonies there, they offered up the holy Sacrifice. For more than two centuries the Turks have forbidden these holy rites, which were carried out for so many ages, when Godfrey de Bouillon and his successors were the Kings of Jerusalem. 35

The Station where the Mass is celebrated is in the great Basilica of St. John Lateran, the mother and the chief of all the churches of Rome and of the world. In former times, when the Popes resided at the palace beside this venerable Church, before St. Peter's was built, the papal ceremonies were here carried out with great splendors. But since Michael Angelo with those who followed him laid the plan of St. Peter's, the grandest building ever raised to the worship of the true and living God, the Pope celebrates Palm Sunday at the Vatican.

The Mass of this Sunday has none of the traits of joy and gladness we find in the ceremonies of the blessing and of the procession of the palms. The part of the Gospel read at this Mass is the history of the passion of our Lord as given by St. Matthew. 36 The passion, according to St. Mark, 37 is said on Tuesday, that of St. Luke on Wednesday, 38 and that of St. John on Friday. 39

The manner in which these sad histories of the passion and death of our Lord are recited, is different from the other Gospels of the year. The lesson which the Church wishes to impress on her children by these sad histories is that the Author of Life was slain for our sins. To make a deep impression on our minds the ceremonies differ from those of the usual Gospel rites. The blessing is not asked, for the giver of all blessings is dead ; no lights are carried before the book, for the light " of all men who cometh into the world " 40 is crucified; no smoke of incense ascends heavenward, for the piety and the faith of the Apostles are wavering; the salute, "The Lord be with you," is not sung, for by a salute the traitor Judas betrayed his master; the " Glory be to thee, O Lord," is omitted, for we are struck with grief at the sight of the Redeemer stripped of his glory. All is sadness. 41

Among the Greeks and Romans, the way of reciting tragedy was to have different persons take separate parts and recite them as they came in the piece, and the Church has preserved that way in the singing of the passion of our Lord during Holy Week. 42 We could have given a strong description of the passion and of the sufferings of the Saviour, but the most eloquent sermon is cold compared to strong and powerful dramatic tragedy, such as is carried out by the Church on these days. 43 It is beyond all description in its powerful effect, and it must be seen and heard by those who understand the Latin, to feel its beautiful sublimity, which moves the very depths of the soul, and leaves an impression which once heard is never forgotten.

In the principal churches, in seminaries, and wherever our rites and ceremonies are carried out, the passion is sung by three clergymen and the choir. The clergymen should be vested like deacons with stoles only. The historic part is sung by one in a manly tenor voice, what was spoken by a third person in a high key, and the words of our divine Lord are chanted in a deep, solemn bass; all producing a wonderful dramatic effect, each part having its own cadence, as in the dramas of the Greeks and Romans, each is suited to the character represented, and is well worthy of ancient tragedy. The singing of the narrator is clear, every word distinct and beautifully modulated. The words of any third person in the history of the passion come forth spritely, like the speech of a conversation, while the words of our blessed Lord are uttered in a slow, solemn, grave and dignified manner, beginning low and rising by full tones, then changing into rich, harmonious music, till they end in graceful cadences modulated into more beautiful tones, when the Saviour asks a question. This is the way they are sung in all parts of the world; but they are of wonderful beauty in the Pope's chapel, for there they are sung by members of the papal choir, who are chosen for their rich and musical voices, and trained for this purpose. 44

The choruses are remarkable. When the Jews speak in the history of the passion, or when any crowd is made to cry out, the choir bursts out with its simple but massive music, and pours forth the ideas with an energy and a force which thrill the soul and overcome the feelings. These choruses were composed by Lewis de Victoria, 45 of Avila, who lived in the time of the great Palestrina, and the latter did not attempt to alter them, because he found them so beautiful and so suited to the Passion. When the Jews cry, " Crucify him," or, "Barrabas," the choir bursts forth with vehement energy, each syllable having a note, but the last word has a passage of key, simple yet strikingly impressive, while in most of the choruses the singing comes abruptly to an end by a quick termination, making the effect wonderfully powerful by the rapid stamping, marked manner, well suited to the noisy outcries of a furious mob.

In the third chorus of St. Matthew's Gospel, when the two false witnesses give testimony against him, it is a duet, one on a high key and the other a lower, with the words following one another in a stumbling way, as though one took his story from the other, one jarring with the other, or trying to imitate the other, aptly representing the words of the gospel that "Their witness did not agree." 46 The words, "Hail, King of the Jews," 47 are sung in an exceeding soft and moving tone, inclining the soul to utter in earnest what the Jews said in mockery. In the Gospel of St. John, sung on Good Friday, one or two sentences are most exquisite in tone and modulation. They are the words, " If you let him go, you are no friend of Caesar's;" but the most beautiful of all are the words of the soldiers, when dividing his garment, "Let us not divide it, but cast lots." The words follow each other in a falling cadence, becoming softer and softer, nearly dying away, till they burst forth into a mildly majestic swell of harmonious music.

Their effect is beyond description. The shortness of their length, the rapidity of their movements and their sudden breaking forth, produce a feeling of wonder, astonishment and admiration for their simplicity, beauty and overpowering effect. They are arranged according to the principle of a deep dramatic design, calculated to produce the most solemn and devout impressions on the soul. The stately rhythm, the triple chant and the choruses, with their poetic feeling, each produces its effect. The strong voice in which the historic part is given, softens gradually as the catastrophe of the crucifixion approaches, dying away as the last breath of the Lord's life is given up on the cross. When all ends, a deep silence fills the church, and the clergy, with the whole congregation as one man, fall upon their knees in adoration of the Saviour's death. The same feeling fills every heart. Every thought goes back to the original scene, and every imagination brings before the heart the last moments of our Redeemer's life upon the cross, as though they were there on Calvary's top, when the world was redeemed by the blood of God.

The gospel is sung with incense after the Passion, which recalls the people from their sorrow and woe by giving a history of the sealing up of the sepulchre and of the resurrection.

During the four days before his passion, our Lord used to spend the nights at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, in the village of Bethany, from which each morning he went into the city of Jerusalem, and in the temple he used to preach to the priests and people. 48 His words became more striking and more vigorous, denouncing them, with a vehemence that was unusual, for their wickedness, foretelling the destruction of their city for the hardness of their hearts. He fasted each day. Once he came to a fig tree to find something to eat, and found but leaves. He cursed it, when it dried up—a figure of those who have good Christian intentions, but who do not put them in practice; they are cursed by God because of their infidelity to grace.

One day he came from the temple toward the evening hour and went along on the way to Bethany. Resting for a moment on the side of Mount Olives, his disciples gathered around him and asked him the time when the temple would be destroyed. Uniting in one prophetic picture the destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and the world at the end of time, because one is but a figure of the other, in wonderful words he prophesied the time when the Romans under Titus would come, forty years from that time, and from the very place where he then sat, threaten the holy city, surround it on every side, take it, destroy it, level its walls, burn its temple, and not leaving a stone upon a stone, draw the plow over the spot where the temple of Solomon once stood in all its glory. From that he passed to the destruction of the world, when the number of the saints would be completed; when the world will have run its course ; when the mom will be darkened, and the sun refuse to shed its light; when the stars would fall from the vault of heaven; when all nature would groan in agony, and when the death of the universe will take place as foretold by the prophets. 49

Monday the Station is held in the Church of St. Praxedes, the Church in which in the IXth century St. Pascal, the holy Pope, placed the remains of the 2,300 martyrs taken from the catacombs, and erected the column to which our blessed Lord was bound when he was scourged. In the Mass the Gospel is taken from St. John's narrative, where he speaks of Mary Magdalen taking the box of precious ointment and anointing the feet of Jesus in the house of Lazarus, her brother. 50

Tuesday morning, as usual, he went to the temple to teach the people, and passing on the way they came to the fig tree which had withered away when he told his disciples to have faith. Continuing on his way, he came to the temple, when the scribes and elders, smarting under his rebukes of the day before, asked him by what authority he did these things. He confounded them by asking them from whence came the baptism of John the Baptist and its power, 51 and they were afraid to answer him, for they feared the people.

The Station is held on Tuesday in the Church of St. Prisca, which was once the house of the holy Acquila and Prisca, to whom St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans sends his greetings. In the third century, Pope St. Eutychianus, because of having the same name, here laid the body of St. Prisca, the Roman virgin and martyr.

The Passion, according to St. Mark, is said to-day in place of the usual gospel; it is sung in the same way as the Passion of St. Matthew on Palm Sunday.

1 Gueranger le Demanche des Rameux, p. 228.

2 John xii. 13.

3 El Porque de las Ceremonias, CXXX., Domide Ramos.

4 John xii. 14.

5 Zach. ix. 9.

6 Math, xxi, 9.

7 Mark xi. 9, 10.

8 S. Axis. En. in Ps. cxxvi. n. 11.

9 St. August, in Tract. L. in Joan.

10 Benedic. XIV. De Dom. Pal. n. 14.

11 Levit. xxiii. 40.

12 Benedict. XIV. De Dom. Palmarum, n. 12.

13 I. Mach. xiii. 37 ; Mach. x. 7.

14 Philo. Josephus de Alexandra, etc.

15 Judges x. 4, xii. 14.

16 Benedictus XIV. De Dom. Pal. n. 15.

17 El Porque de las Ceremonias, cxxx.

18 Meratus T. I. p. 1004.

19 See Benedict XIV. De Dom. Palm. n. 20.

20 Benedict XIV. De Dom. Pal. n. 21.

21 St. Isidor L. I. Tit. 7, n. l.

22 Geariua Not, ad Each. Graecorum, p. 745.

23 Cateches x.

24 Vita S. Eutnymius.

25 Exod. xv. xvi.

26 Math. xxi.

27 El Porque de las Cere-monias C. XXX. Dom. de Ramos.

28 Bishop England's Holy Week.

29 El Porque de la Ceremonias, c. xxx. Dom. de Kamos.

30 Benedict. XIV. de Dom. Pal. n. 13.

31 Fabri Condones, vol. I. p. 473 ; see also El Porque de las Ceremonias, c. xxx.

32 Isidore De Of. Eccl. L. I., c. 27.

33 El Porque de las Ceremonias, c. xxx. Dom. de Ramos.

34 Amati Pouget Inst. Cath. T. 1, p. 11, S. iv. c. 2, 9.

35 Darras Hist, of the Church, etc.

36 xxvi., xxvii.; by order of Pope Alexander, El Porque de las Ceremonias, c. xxx.

37 14, 15.

38 Luke, 22, 23.

39 John xviii., xix. ; el Porque de las Ceremonias, c. xxx. Dom. et Palmos.

40 John l. 9.

41 Bishop England, Cerem. of Holy Week.

42 Cardinal Wiseman, Holy Week, p. 62 ; Bishop England, Holy Week, Palm Sunday; Canon Pope, Holy Week, etc.

43 Card. Wiseman, Holy Week, p. 63.

44 Card. Wiseman, Holy Week, pp. 67, 68.

45 In 1585.

46 Mark xiv. 59.

47 John xix. 3.

48 Math, xxi., xxii., xxiii.

49 Math. xxiv.; Mark xiii. ; Luke xxi.

50 John xii. 63.

51 Mark xi. 20. 24.