“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” – The Liturgies of Holy Week and Triduum: Passion/Palm Sunday
First off, thanks to all those who contacted me offline to see how I was feeling after my tussle with the stomach bug. I am now fully recovered (except for diminished appetite, which is good for losing some weight) and fully involved in my most favorite time of the liturgical year. Never mind Christmas with its heavy commercial promotion – Holy Week, Triduum and Easter are more off of the pop culture radar and less controversial (unless you’re from my area where some have outlawed the “Easter Bunny” for, well, you can guess why…). I’ll trade evergreens, carols and poinsettias for palms, chants and lilies any day! In honor of my love for this holiest week of the Church’s year, I’ve also set out to redeem myself with my online readers and present a series of explanations on these complicated, once-a-year rituals.
Too ambitious a project for an overworked DRE & Liturgist? Perhaps. Am I certifiably crazy for trying this my first week back on the blog? You betcha!
Anyway, I’m willing to give it a shot if you’re willing to read and comment. I need your feedback to make this work so let’s begin with today special celebrations:
Holy Week begins with the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem on what is to be titled in the forthcoming new translation as Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. There are three different movements that can begin this ritual journey:
1) a full procession from a place distinct from the church of celebration before the principal Mass
2) a solemn entrance from the door or inside the church
3) a simple entrance like any other Sunday
Now, the first two would include not only movement around the church by those assembled but also the proclamation of the Gospel from either Matthew (year A) Mark or John (year B) or Luke (year C) on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. I have discovered in the last 20-30 years that American Catholics either do not like to process or don’t know how to do so in a reverent way. Inviting them to start in a different place than their regular seat at Mass is met with indifference, indignation or the request is just plain ignored. I grew up in a Azorean (Portuguese) American culture where processions (even out in the streets of my hometown) were a way of church life so one learned early how to do so with respect and precision. That’s why I have a hard time comprehending why it takes so much coaxing and prodding to get folks to leave their seats and move around or from one liturgical space to another. Processions are not done simply to move Bishops, liturgical ministers or sacramental candidates from point A to point B – they serve to remind us of the pilgrimages of old, when folks would take a trip to a holy place in order to learn something about themselves and their faith. When that type of travel was made easier over the centuries, processions outside of our churches evolved into a reflection of our own spiritual journey that sometimes need to be publicly demonstrated. Ritually, there are only three real processions in our church year that begs for everyone in the pew to become a part of – the one that opens Palm Sunday, the one that takes the reserved Eucharist to its place of repose on Holy Thursday and the one at the start of the Easter Vigil. Some traditions include one on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ but those become ethnically driven, much like what I experienced as a child when we processed the “dead body” of Jesus after the Good Friday ritual or took to the streets in honor of the Holy Spirit around Pentecost. In any case, I guess my hope is that if you are asked to move from your comfortable pew and “take a stroll” around the church this year, give it a sincere try – ritual movement is not just for priests, deacons and altar servers!
**gets down off her liturgical soap box now – that will happen occasionally** Back to the subject at hand –
Once the palms are blessed and the Gospel is read, the rubrics suggest that a brief homily may be given – I believe the only time in our year that two different homilies can happen in one celebration. My pastor/boss chooses this time to speak on the importance of this day as the gateway to the Triduum and then, after the Passion, he encourages us to reflect on what we have just heard in silence. As Hosannas are sung to accompany the procession, we move from the Hall to the Church where most folks have left something at their usual seat to tell others that it is occupied. That works most of the time. Now, if we begin with a solemn entrance, folks gather usually inside at the doors of the church while others are in their seats. All of what happens during the first option happens here as well. This is usually the choice if the weather outside is “frightful” or can be chosen at other parish Masses not considered the “Principal” Mass. These days most pastors in my neck of the woods would not make that distinction outside of the 7 or 8am Masses in the morning, where they also would use the shorter version of the Passion. FInally, the simple entrance is just that – simply how we begin Mass at any other time during the year without hearing the entrance Gospel. I would hope this third option is used very sparingly because this Sunday and its pageantry sets the tone of the entire week and sets it apart from the rest of the liturgical year.
After the opening Mass continues in the usual way until the reading of the Passion, which this year is taken from Matthew’s Gospel (this being Year A in our three year cycle). Traditionally, it is meant to be chanted by three readers, but how many pastors, deacons and lectors do YOU know that can pull this off well and do it multiple times over the weekend? While this is a lofty goal, it is usually not even attempted. Rubrics in the new translation do not stay far from the old ones, which state that the Gospel can be “read by read by (lay) readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to the Priest.” (Instruction from Passion Sunday Mass – 1986 Sacramentary). While I’m good with dividing this up between readers and even adding a musical refrain to have the an acclamation from the assembly now and then, I have never been a fan of the missalette or hymnal publishers who insist on having the pew folks read, mostly in a drone and with the flipping of pages, parts of the scripture in an attempt to “get them involved” in this long proclamation, especially if they are standing the entire time (I won’t touch upon the “pastoral” practice of sitting at this time – maybe in my Good Friday tome but not today). In the Liturgy of the Word, scripture is supposed to be LISTENED to by proclamation of the Lector, Deacon or Priest. It is NOT a participatory action at any other time of the year and I believe that doing so on these holy days doesn’t help Mass goers absorb any better than if they were listening attentively and singing an acclamation at appropriate intervals. Three good proclaimers, rehearsed and engaged in their task, makes a much better impact and is more reverent to the task.
If there is one thing you will learn about me, it is that no matter what, I am faithfully to the liturgy and its movements. It is a living entity which, while static on paper, is fluid and spirit-driven in practice, never experienced the same way twice by those who participate in it. Again, more on that at a later date – just giving you more insight into how I look at and respect what I do.
I’d like to know what your Passion/Palm Sunday experiences were this weekend in your part of the planet so please leave a comment or two for myself and others to learn from. I’ll be back in a day or two to talk about the one liturgy of Holy Week that few people get a chance to participate in — that is, unless you are part of the clergy – The Chrism Mass.