Palm Sunday: A Sign of our Heavenly Pilgrimage

On Palm Sunday we commemorate liturgically Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This event in the life of Jesus is mentioned by every evangelist, and this day brings us into Holy Week. Hence its importance is pivotal in preparing us to fruitfully celebrate Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. The commemoration helps us to pursue Jesus’ example in order that we make ourselves worthy to enter heavenly Jerusalem. After that the priest and people sign themselves with the sign of the Cross and greets the people he addresses them with the subsequent words:

Dear brethren (brothers and sisters), since the beginning of lent until now we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works. Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration of our lord’s Paschal mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection. For it was to accomplish this mystery that he entered his own city of Jerusalem. Therefore, with all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the lord’s entry into the city for our salvation, following in his footsteps, so that, being made by his grace partakers of the Cross, we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life.

In one of the prayers with which the priest blesses the palm branches he prays that those who are holding the palm branches place their hope in God so as to bear fruit by charitable acts empowered by Jesus. Therefore, the priest prays: Increase the faith of those who place their hope in you, o God, and graciously hear the prayers of those who call on you, that we, who today hold high these branches to hail Christ in his triumph, may bear fruit for you by good works accomplished in him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

The shining beauty of Palm Sunday rests with the fact that Jesus entered into Jerusalem in utmost humility, thus refraining himself from any pomp and power. St Andrew of Crete, who died in 740, one of the Early Church Fathers, emphasizes this point in his Palm Sunday sermon (Oratio 9 in ramos palmarum: PG 97, 990-994).

Let us go together to meet Christ on the Mount of Olives. Today he returns from Bethany and proceeds of his own free will toward his holy and blessed passion, to consummate the mystery of our salvation.

He who came down from heaven to raise us from the depths of sin, to raise us with himself, we are told in Scripture, above every sovereignty, authority and power, and every other name that can be named, now comes of his own free will to make his journey to Jerusalem. He comes without pomp or ostentation. As the psalmist says: He will not dispute or raise his voice to make it heard in the streets. He will be meek and humble, and he will make his entry in simplicity.

We too, who are holding the palm branches in our hands and, as the first prayer for the blessing of the branches says, follow Christ the King in exultation, are encouraged to greet the humble king with humility. Humility cherishes only humility. St Andrew encourages us:

Let us run to accompany him as he hastens toward his passion, and imitate those who met him then, not by covering his path with garments, olive branches or palms, but by doing all we can to prostrate ourselves before him by being humble and by trying to live as he would wish. Then we shall be able to receive the Word at his coming, and God, whom no limits can contain, will be within us.

In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens – the proof, surely, of his power and godhead – his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.

So let us spread before his feet, not garments or soulless olive branches, which delight the eye for a few hours and then wither, but ourselves, clothed in his grace, or rather, clothed completely in him.

In his powerful homily St Andrew encourages you and me to humble ourselves to welcome Jesus in the accomplishment of the Father’s will for us and our salvation. Thus exhorts St Andrew:

We who have been baptized into Christ must ourselves be the garments that we spread before him. Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory.

Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel.

This great sermon which accompanies the biblical reading taken from the Letter to the Hebrews as found in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Palm Sunday gently reminds me of what Pope Francis said on Palm Sunday of this year 2023:

Brothers and sisters, a love like this, embracing us totally and to the very end, a love of Jesus like this, has the capacity to turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, and make them capable of mercy, tenderness and compassion. It is the style of God, this closeness, with passion and tenderness. God is like this. Christ, in his abandonment, stirs us to seek him and to love him and those who are themselves abandoned. For in them we see not only people in need, but Jesus himself, but him, he is with them, abandoned: Jesus, who saved us by descending to the depths of our human condition. He is like one of them: abandoned unto death. I think back to some weeks ago, that man, called homeless, a German man who died under the colonnade alone, abandoned. He is Jesus for each of us. Many people need our closeness, many abandoned people. I too need Jesus to caress me, to be close to me. Each of us need to find him in the abandoned, in the alone.

The beauty of Palm Sunday is that it warms our hearts to greet and welcome with loving humility Jesus in those who are abandoned and alone.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.