Palm Sunday and Holy Week

The Apogee of Lent
by
Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

    We have reached the "apogee" - the very vertex of the penitential season of Lent when the humanity of Jesus Christ takes its toll, coming to the surface in sustaining the most brutal beating one could encounter; thus proving His unyielding, everlasting Love for us by His undertaking for us the burden of our sins and, only through His merits, making it possible that we might someday be in Paradise with Him. It begins on Palm Sunday in the streets of Jerusalem in celebratory anticipation and will climax on those very same streets less than a week later when their "Hero" is no longer fanned with palmfrons and hosannas, but spat upon and held in contempt for He failed to provide the instant gratification the people sought for they saw not with the light of faith, but of futility and fascination in someone they thought could make their lives easier, rid the Romans and call off the letter-of-the-law Sanhedrin. How many that day had regrets, saying: "if only we had known..."? We cannot make such excuses or regrets, for truly we know He was [is] the Son of God!

      Editor's Note: Because of the spiritual importance of the entire Liturgical Season of Lent, we are bringing you excerpts for this penitential season focusing today on Palm Sunday and Holy Week which lead to the Easter Triduum. (the excerpts below are taken from Volume 6, pages 192-283). We have thus turned to the most traditional and practical Catholic source available, none other than the inspired and motivating words of the esteemed Abbot of Solesmes Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger, renowned for his masterful work The Liturgical Year, which is often considered the Summa for the Church's Liturgy in History, Mystery and Practice. It is in those areas that we feel it is important to address in order to help readers live as better Catholics in knowing, living, and applying their Faith to the fullest and giving to Christ and His Blessed Mother all that they can. Few capture the essence as this humble but brilliant abbot who is known simply as "the Gardener of the Canticles of Eternity."

    "In obedience to the wishes of the Church, we have knelt down at those words of the apostle, where he says that every knee should bow at the holy name of Jesus. If there be one time of the year rather than another, when the Son of God has a right to our fervent adorations, it is this week, when we see Him insulted in His Passion. Not only should His sufferings excite us to tender compassion; we should also keenly resent the insults that are heaped upon our Jesus, the God of infinite majesty. Let us strive, by our humble homage, to make Him amends for the indignities He suffered in atonement for our pride. Let us united with the holy angels, who, witnessing what He has gone through for the love of man, prostrate themselves, in profoundest adoration, at the sight of His humiliations."

Palm Sunday

    Early in the morning of this Day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive today in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosannas to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome's emperor, and of the high priests and pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.

    The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Savior. He is poor and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.'(1)- {Zach. ix. 9} Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfillment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him as ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Bethphage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.

    The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat,(2)-{St. Mark. Xi. 2} is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a FEW DAYS hence the Jews will be rejected for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God's people, and become docile and faithful.

    The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Savior, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him,(3)-{Ibid.7, and St. Luke xix. 35} and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King.(1)-{St. Luke xix. 38} They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.

    Thus did God, in His power over men's hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamor for His Blood This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations; but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate's order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: 'What I have written, I have written.' Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King; they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her. 'The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.'(1)- {St. Luke i 32} Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.

    This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of Dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of today, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse...(pages 192-195)

    ...Let us lovingly go forth to meet this our King, our Savior, who comes to visit the daughter of Sion, as the prophet has just told us. He is in our midst; it is to Him that we pay honor with our palms: let us give Him our hearts too. He comes that He may be our King; let us welcome Him as such, and fervently cry out to Him: 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' (page 199)

    The Station at Rome is in the basilica of St. John Lateran, the mother and mistress of all Churches. The papal function, however, now takes place at St. Peter's; but the usual indulgences are still granted to those who visit the archbasilica. (page 218)

    [Comments on the Palm Sunday's Epistle] In obedience to the wishes of the Church, we have knelt down at those words of the apostle, where he says that every knee should bow at the holy name of Jesus. If there be one time of the year rather than another, when the Son of God has a right to our fervent adorations, it is this week, when we see Him insulted in His Passion. Not only should His sufferings excite us to tender compassion; we should also keenly resent the insults that are heaped upon our Jesus, the God of infinite majesty. Let us strive, by our humble homage, to make Him amends for the indignities He suffered in atonement for our pride. Let us united with the holy angels, who, witnessing what He has gone through for the love of man, prostrate themselves, in profoundest adoration, at the sight of His humiliations.(pages 219-220)

    [Final Comments for Palm Sunday following Solemn Vespers] Let us now go over in our minds the other events which happened to our divine Lord on this day of His solemn entry into Jerusalem. St. Luke tells us that it was on His approach to the city, that Jesus wept over it, and spoke these touching words: 'If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace! But now they are hidden from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee; and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone; because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.'(1)- {St. Luke xix. 42-44}

    A few days ago, we were reading in the holy Gospel how Jesus wept over the tomb of Lazarus; today He shed tears over Jerusalem. At Bethania His weeping was caused by the sight of bodily death, the consequence and punishment of sin; but this death is not irremediable: Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and he that believieth in Him shall life. (1)-{St. John xi. 25} Whereas, the state of the unfaithful Jerusalem is a figure of the death of the soul, and from this there is no resurrection, unless the soul, while time is given to her, return to the Author of life. Hence it is, that the tears shed by Jesus over Jerusalem are so bitter. Amidst the acclamations which greet His entry into the city of David, His heart is sad; for He sees that many of her inhabitants will not profit of the time of her visitation. Let us console the Heart of our Jesus, and be to Him a faithful Jerusalem.

    The sacred historians tells us that Jesus, immediately upon His entrance into the city, went to the temple, and cast out all them that sold and bought there.(2)-{St. Matthew xxi 12} This was the second time that He had shown His authority in His Father's house and no one had dared to resist Him. The chief priests and pharisees found fault with Him, and accused Him to His face of causing confusion by His entry into the city; but our Lord confounded them by the reply He made. It is thus that in after ages, when it has pleased God to glorify His Son and the Church of His Son, the enemies of both have given vent to their rage; they protested against the triumph, but they could not stop it. But when God, in the unsearchable ways of His wisdom, allowed persecution and trial to follow these periods of triumph, then did these bitter enemies redouble their efforts to induce the very people that had cried Hosanna to the Son of David, to clamor for His being delivered up and crucified. They succeeded in fomenting persecution, but not in destroying the kingdom of Christ and His Church. The kingdom seemed, at times, to be interrupted in its progress; but the time for another triumph came. Thus will it be to the end; and then, after all these changes from glory to humiliation, and from humiliation to glory, the kingdom of Jesus and of His bride will gain the last and eternal triumph over this world, which would not know the time of its visitation.

    We learn from St. Matthew (1)-{St. Matt. xxi. 17} that our Savior spent the remainder of this day at Bethania. His blessed Mother and the house of Lazarus were comforted by His return. There was not a single offer of hospitality made to Him in Jerusalem, at least there is mention in the Gospel of any such offer. We cannot help making the reflection, as we meditate upon this event of our Lord's life:--an enthusiastic reception is given to Him in the morning, He is proclaimed by the people as their King; but when the evening of that day comes on, there is not one of all those thousands to offer Him food or lodging. In the Carmelite monasteries of St. Teresa's reform, there is a custom, which has been suggested by this thought, and is intended as a reparation for this ingratitude shown to our Redeemer. A table is placed in the middle of the refectory; and after the community have finished their dinner, the food which was placed upon that table is distributed among the poor, and Jesus is honored in them.(pages 238-240)

Monday in Holy Week

    This morning, also, Jesus goes with His disciples to Jerusalem. He is fasting, for the Gospel, tells us that He was hungry.(1)-{St. Matt. xxi. 18} He approaches a fig-tree, which is by the way-side; but finds nothing on it, save leaves only. Jesus, wishing to give us an instruction, curses the fig-tree, which immediately withers away. He would hereby teach us what they are to expect, who have nothing but good desires, and never produce in themselves the fruit of a real conversion. Nor is the allusion to Jerusalem less evident. This city is zealous for the exterior of divine worship; but her heart is hard and obstinate, and she is plotting, at this very hour, the death of the Son of God.

    The greater portion of the day is spent in the temple, where Jesus holds long conversations with the chief priests and ancients of the people. His language to them is stronger than ever, and triumphs over all their captious questions. It is principally in the Gospel of St. Matthew(2)-{St. Matt. xxi. 18} that we shall find these answers of our Redeemer, which so energetically accuse the Jews of their sin of rejecting the Messias, and so plainly foretell the punishment their sin is to bring after it.

    At length Jesus leaves the temple and takes the road that leads to Bethania. Having come as far as Mount Olivet, which commands a view of Jerusalem, He sits down and rests awhile. The disciples take this opportunity of asking Him how soon the chastisements He has been speaking of in the temple will come upon the city. His answer comprises two events: the destruction of Jerusalem, and the final destruction of the world. He thus teaches them that the first is the figure of the second. The time when each is to happen, is to be when the measure of iniquity is filled up. But, with regard to the chastisement that is to befall Jerusalem, He gives this more definite answer: 'Amen I say to you: this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.'(1)- {St. Matt. xxiv. 34} He leaves Mount Olivet, returns to Bethania, and consoles the anxious heart of His most holy Mother...(pages 243-244)

    [Comments on the Epistle] ...The holy angels look on with amazement at the treatment shown by the Jews to Jesus, and falling down, they adore the holy Face, which they see thus bruised and defiled: let us, also, prostrate and ask pardon, for our sins have outraged that same Face.

    But let us hearken to the last words of our Epistle: He that hath walked in darkness, and hath no light, let him hope in the name of the Lord and lean upon his God. Who is this but the Gentile, abandoned to sin and idolatry? He knows not what is happening at this very hour in Jerusalem; he knows not that the earth possesses its Savior, and that this Savior is being trampled beneath the feet of His own chosen people; but, in a very short time, the light of the Gospel will shine upon this poor Gentile; he will believe; he will obey; he will love his Redeemer, even to laying down his life for Him. Then will be fulfilled the prophecy of the unworthy pontiff, who prophesied against his will that the death of Jesus would bring salvation to the Gentiles, by gathering into one family the children of God, that hitherto had been dispersed. (1)-{St. John. xi. 52} (page 247)

    ...Judas Iscariot, dares to protest against this waste (of the perfume Magdalene anoints Jesus with), as he calls it. His base avarice deprives him of feeling and respect for his divine Master. His opinion is shared in by several of the other disciples, for they are still carnal-minded. For several reasons Jesus permits Magdalene's generosity to thus blamed. And firstly, He wishes to announce His approaching death, which is mystically expressed by the pouring of this ointment upon His body. Then, too, He would glorify Magdalene; and He therefore tells those who are present, that her tender and ardent love shall be rewarded, and that her name shall be celebrated in every country, wheresoever the Gospel shall be preached. (4)-{St. Matt. xxvi. 13} And lastly, He would console those whose generous love prompts them to be liberal in their gifts to His altars; for what He here says of Magdalene is, in reality, a defense for them, when they are accused of spending too much over the beauty of God's house.

    Let us prize each of these divine teachings. Let us love to honor Jesus, both in His own person, and in His poor. Let us honor Magdalene, and imitate her devotion to the Passion and death of our Lord. In fine, let us prepare our perfumes for our divine Master: there must be the myrrh of the Magi, which signifies penance, and the precious spikenard of Magdalene, which is the emblem of generous and compassionating love. (pages 251-252)

Tuesday in Holy Week

    Today, again, our Savior sets out in the morning for Jerusalem. His intention is to repair to the temple, and continue His yesterday's teachings. It is evident that His mission on earth is fast drawing to its close. He says to His disciples: 'You know that after two days shall be the Pasch, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to be crucified.' (1)- {St. Matt. xxvi. 2}

    On the road from Bethania to Jerusalem, the disciples are surprised at seeing the fig-tree which their divine Master had yesterday cursed, now dead. Addressing himself to Jesus, Peter says: 'Rabbi, behold, the fig-tree, which Thou didst curse, is withered away.'(2) {St. Mark xi. 21} Jesus replies: 'Have the faith of God. Amen I say to you, that whosoever shall say to this mountain: Be thou removed and cast into the sea! and shall not stagger in his heart, but believe that whatsoever he saith shall be done, it shall be done unto him' (1)-{St. Mark xi. 22, 23} (pages 255-256)

    ...No sooner has He (Jesus) entered the temple, than the chief priests, the scribes, and the ancients of the people, accost Him with these words: 'By what authority dost Thou these things? And who has given Thee this authority, that Thou shouldst do these things?(2)- {Ibid. 28} and who has given Thee this authority, that Thou shouldst do these things?'(2)- {Ibid. 28} We shall find our Lord's answer given in the Gospel...

    In today's Mass, the Church reads the history of the Passion according to St. Mark, who wrote his Gospel the next after St. Matthew; hence it is that the second place is assigned to him. His account of the Passion is shorter than St. Matthew's, of which it would often seem to be a summary; and yet certain details peculiar to this evangelist were evidently furnished by an eye-witness. Our readers are aware that St. Mark was disciple of St. Peter, and that his Gospel was written under the very eye of the prince of the apostles. (page 256)

    [Comments for the Epistle] Again we have the plaintive words of Jeremias: he gives us the very words used by his enemies, when they conspired his death. It is evident, however, that the prophet is here the figure of one greater than himself. Let us, say these enemies, put wood upon his bread; that is, let us put poisonous word into what he eats that so we may cause his death. This is the literal sense of these words, as applied to the prophet; but how much more truly were they fulfilled in our Redeemer! He tells us that His divine Flesh is the true Bread that came down from Heaven. This Bread, this Body of the Man-God, is bruised, torn, and wounded; the Jews nail it to the wood; so that, it is, in a manner, made one with the wood, and the wood is all covered with Jesus' Blood. This Lamb of God was immolated on the wood of the cross; it is by His immolation, that we have given to us a Sacrifice which is worthy of God; and it is by this Sacrifice that we participate the Bread of Heaven, the Flesh of the Lamb, our true Pasch.(pages 258-259)

Wednesday in Holy Week

    The figurative lamb is now to make way for the true one; the Pasch of this year will substitute the reality for the type; and Jesus' Blood, shed by the hands of wicked priests, is soon to flow simultaneously with that of victims which have been hitherto acceptable to God only because they prefigured the Sacrifice of Calvary. The Jewish priesthood is about to be its own executioner, by immolating Him, whose Blood is to abrogate the ancient Alliance, and perpetuate the new one. (page 274-275)

    [Comments on Lesson for the Mass] ...The Synagogue will seek to stifle the Church in her infancy; but no sooner shall the Church, shaking the dust from her feet, turn from Jerusalem to the Gentiles than the vengeance of Christ will fall on the city which bought, betrayed, and crucified Him. Her citizens will have to pay dearly for these crimes. We learn from the Jewish historian Josephus, who was an eye-witness to the siege, that the fire which was raging in one of the streets was quenched by the torrents of their blood. Thus was fulfilled the threats pronounced by our Lord against this faithless city, as He sat on Mount Olivet, the day after His triumphant entry.

    And yet, the destruction of Jerusalem was but a faint image of the terrible destruction which is to befall the world at the last day. Jesus, who is now despised and insulted by sinners, will then appear on the clouds of Heaven, and reparation will be made for these outrages. Now He suffers Himself to be betrayed, scoffed at, and spit upon; but when the day of vengeance is come, happy they that have served Him, and have compassionated with Him in His humiliations and sufferings! Woe to them that have treated Him with contempt! Woe to those who, not content with refusing to bear His yoke, have led others to rebel against Him! For He is King; He came into this world that He might reign over it; and they that despise His mercy shall not escape His justice. (pages 281-282)

    [Comment on the Epistle for Wednesday's Mass] And we, after hearing both the old and new Testament upon the sufferings which Jesus went through for our sins, how shall we sufficiently love this dear Redeemer, who bore our infirmities and carried our sorrows, so as to look as a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted?

    We are healed by His bruises! O heavenly Physician, Who takes upon Himself the sufferings of those He comes to cure! ...

    ...Let us love and adore this divine silence, which works our salvation. Let us not pass over an iota of the devotedness which Jesus shows us-a devotedness which never could have existed save in the heart of a God. Oh! how much He has loved us, His children, the purchase of His Blood, His seed, as the prophet here calls us. O holy Church! Thou long-lived seed of Jesus, who laid down His life, thou art dear to Him, for He bought thee at a great price. Faithful souls! Give Him love for love. Sinners! Be converted to this your Savior; His Blood will restore you to life, for if we have all gone astray like sheep, remember what is added. The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. There is no sinner, however great may be his crimes, there is no heretic, or infidel, who has not his share in this precious Blood, whose infinite merit is such, that it could redeem a million worlds more guilty even than our own. (pages 282-283)



    Palm Sunday and Holy Week
    LIVING IN TRADITION