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Archbishop Follo: Palm Sunday's Liturgy of Passion

We are invited to welcome Christ to Jerusalem with joy in our hearts, to walk with Him on the path of a passionate love: the Way of the Cross.

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Roman Rite – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion- Year B – March 25, 2018
Is 50.4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2, 6-11; Mk 14,1-15,47
Ambrosian Rite
Is 52, 13-53.12; Ps 88; Heb 12.1b-3; Jn 11.55-12.11
Authentic Week – Palm Sunday in the Passion of the Lord
1) From the wood of the palms to the wood of the Cross.
Today begins the passion of love of Jesus Christ, our Savior. The Palm Sunday rites invite us to participate in the joy of the Jewish people who witness the solemn and festive entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem:
– the palms that people shake as a sign of victory,
– the cloaks lying on the ground to honor the Messiah who enters on the back of a donkey,
– the festive hosanna of the children and the people,
– the triumphal procession that acclaims Christ Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords.
It is natural to identify oneself with that festive crowd, to sing those songs, and to participate in that triumph.
Unfortunately, the exaltation of the feast lasts very little and is transformed very quickly into humiliation and death. To go from the joy of the triumph of the palms to that one of the resurrection, Christ must go through the hard experience of the passion, the cross, and death. Humanely speaking, it is a very difficult path to understand and the second reading of today’s Mass makes us aware of this mysterious journey: «Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.«(Phil 2: 6-8)
In the austere liturgy of the Good Friday we will listen to these words and to the following ones: «Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father«(ibid. 2, 9-11).
Lowering and exaltation: this is the key to understanding the paschal mystery. Here is the key to penetrating the amazing design of God that is accomplished in the events of Easter.
The kingship of Christ is expressed in this lowering, in this total dispossession, and in becoming a servant and a slave in a profound and complete humiliation.
In fact, the reading of the Passion of Christ puts before our eyes the terrible scenes of the passion of Jesus: his physical and moral suffering, the kiss of Judas, the abandonment by the disciples, the trial before Pilate, the insults and the taunts, the conviction, the painful way, the crucifixion and, at the end, the most mysterious suffering: «My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?». A loud cry, and then death.
Why all of this? The beginning of the Eucharistic prayer gives us the answer: «He, who was sinless, accepted the passion for us sinners and, delivering himself to an unjust condemnation, carried the burden of our sins. With his death, he washed our faults and with his resurrection, he acquired salvation for us «(Preface).
This is why our Eucharistic(= grateful) celebration expresses gratitude and love to the One who sacrificed himself for us, to the Servant of God who, as the prophet had said, did not oppose resistance, did not retreat but presented his back to the scougers, and did not turn away his face from insults and spitting (cf. Is 50, 4-7).
If, on the one hand, the whole history (that of humanity, that of the Church and that of each one of us) is definitely marked by the passion of love that the Son of God suffered and offered for us, on the other hand we are called to proclaim also the glory of God the Father and his infinite mercy. Immersed in death and in the cross, attracted by the Crucifix, we can truly take part
– in his glorious resurrection, that has defeated the power of death and gives us life forever;
– in his kingship, which uses the power of Love and knows how to derive good from evil, to soften a hardened heart, and to ignite hope in the deepest darkness;
– in his priesthood, which makes him stand before the Father with open arms to serve him in praise and to take his love to all men and women.
2) The passionate offer of Christ.
I think that it is correct to state that, for the evangelist Mark, the common thread of the story of the passion we read today is the prayer of Jesus to the Father. It is a prayer that expresses a sort of inner laceration, but, beyond everything, there is a fundamental point: the awareness of his filial relationship with God: «Abba», father. It is an awareness that never fails even in the trial. And it is precisely here that the imploring is born: «Everything is possible for you. Remove this cup from me «. If God is a Father and can do everything, why does he not take his son away from the trial? This is the spontaneous question of man, also of the man-Jesus. But after the imploring, come the renewed trust and the abandonment without reserve: «But not what I want, but what you want». If at the beginning of the episode of Jesus in the Garden of Olives we see an anguished and frightened Jesus, at the end – after the prayer – we see a Jesus who has rediscovered serenity and firmness: «Get up, come on, he who betrays me is near «. The Father did not take Jesus away from the Cross, but he helped him to lay on it and bear the fruits of eternal life.
It is the love of the Father who sends the Son on the Cross. He offers his Son for the salvation of the world. At the same time, it is the love of the Son who does not «judge» the world but sacrifices himself for the love of the Father and for the salvation of the world. By giving himself to the Father through the sacrifice of the cross, Jesus offers – at the same time – himself to the world: to every single person and to the whole of humanity in need of mercy.
I’d like to end these reflections on Palm Sunday, inviting you to live it in praise as did those who welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem with their «hosannas», and in thanksgiving, because even the Holy Week is great. Our Lord and brother Jesus will renew the greatest gift you can imagine: he will give us his life, his body and blood, and his love.
Let’s respond to this great gift following the example of Consecrated Virgins and donate ourselves, our time, our prayer, and our being in deep communion of love with Christ who suffers, dies and rises for us. Let’s lay down before Christ our life and ourselves in an attitude of gratitude and adoration like the virgins on the day of their consecration. Doing so, we will also imitate the people of Jerusalem, who spread their cloaks in front of Messiah moving among them, accepting the invitation of St. Andrew, Bishop of Crete: «Let’s humbly lay ourselves before Christ, instead of the tunics or the inanimate branches and the green fronds that brighten the eyes only for a few hours and are destined to lose, with the sap, also their green. Let’s stretch ourselves covered with his grace, or rather, covered of him … and prostrate ourselves at his feet like tunics lying down … to be able to offer to the winner of death not simple palm branches, but trophies of victory. By shaking the spiritual branches of the soul let’s, together with the children, everyday devoutly acclaim: «Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel» (PG 97, 994).
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
on Mark 14: 1 – 9
Pseudo-Jerome: Let us now sprinkle our book, and our thresholds, with blood, and put the scarlet thread around the house of our prayers, and bind scarlet on our hand, as was done to Zarah (Gn 38,30), that we may be able to say that the red heifer () is slain in the valley (Dt 21,4). For the Evangelist, being about to speak of the slaying of Christ, premises, «After two days was the feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread.»
Bede, Marc., iv, 43: Pascha, which in Hebrew is, phase, is not called from Passion, as many think, but from passing over, because the destroyer, seeing the blood on the doors of the Israelites, passed by them, and did not smite them; or the Lord Himself, bringing aid unto His people, walked above them.
Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, phrase, is interpreted as a passing over, but Pascha means sacrifice. In the sacrifice of the lamb, and the passing of the people through the sea, or through Egypt, the Passion of Christ is prefigured, and the redemption of the people from hell, when He visits us after two days, that is, when the moon is most full, and the age of Christ is perfect, that when no part at all of it is dark, we may eat the flesh of the Lamb without spot, Who (p. 274) taketh away the sins of the world, in one house, that is, in the Catholic Church, shod with charity, and armed with virtue.
Bede: The difference according to the Old Testament between the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread was, that the day alone on which the lamb was slain in the evening, that is, the fourteenth moon of the first month, was called Passover. But on the fifteenth moon, when they came out of Egypt, the feast of unleavened bread came on, which solemn time was appointed for seven days, that is, up to the twenty-first day of the same month in the evening. But the Evangelists indifferently use the day of unleavened bread for the Passover, and the Passover for the days of unleavened bread. Wherefore Mark also here says, «After two days was the feast of the Passover, and of unleavened bread,» because the day of the Passover was also ordered to be celebrated on the days of unleavened bread, and we also, as it were, keeping a continual passover, ought always to be passing out of this world.
Pseudo-Jerome: But iniquity came forth in Babylon from the princes, who ought to have purified the temple and the vessels, and themselves according to the law, in order to eat the lamb.
Wherefore there follows: «And the Chief Priests and the Scribes sought how they might take Him by craft, and put him to death.»
Now when the head is slain, the whole body is rendered powerless, wherefore these wretched men slay the Head. But they avoid the feast day, which indeed befits them, for what feasting can there be for them, who have lost life and mercy?
Wherefore it goes on: «But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people.»
Bede: Not indeed, as the words seem to imply, that they feared the uproar, but they were afraid lest He should be taken out of their hands by the aid of the people.
Theophylact: Nevertheless, Christ Himself had determined for Himself the day of His Passion; for He wished to be crucified on the Passover, because He was the true Passover.
7403 Mc 14,3-9
Bede: The Lord when about to suffer for the whole world, and to redeem all nations with His Blood, dwells in Bethany, that is, in the house of obedience.
Wherefore it is said, «And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman.»
Pseudo-Jerome: For the fawn amongst the stags ever comes back to his couch, that is, the Son, obedient to the Father even unto death, seeks for obedience from us.
Bede: He says «of Simon the leper», not because he remained still a leper at that time, but because having once been such, he was healed by Our Saviour; his former name is left, that the virtue of the Healer may be made manifest.
Theophylact: But although the four Evangelists record the anointing by a woman, there were two women and not one; one described by John, the sister of Lazarus; it was she who six days before the Passover anointed the feet of Jesus; another described by the other three Evangelists. Nay, if you examine, you will find three; (p. 276) for one is described by John, another by Luke, a third by the other two. For that one described by Luke is said to be a sinner and to have come to Jesus during the time of His preaching; but this other described by Matthew and Mark is said to have come at the time of the Passion, nor did she confess that she had been a sinner.
Augustine, de Con. Evan., ii, 79: I however think that nothing else can be meant, but that the sinner who then came to the feet of Jesus was none other than the same Mary who did this twice; once, as Luke relates it, when coming for the first time with humility and tears she merited the remission of her sins. For John also relates this, when he began to speak of the raising of Lazarus before He came to Bethany, saying, «It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.» (Jn 11,2)
But what she again did at Bethany is another act, unrecorded by Luke, but mentioned in the same way by the other three Evangelists. In that therefore Matthew and Mark say that the head of the Lord was anointed by the woman, whilst John says the feet, we must understand that both the head and the feet were anointed by the woman. Unless because Mark has said that she broke the box in order to anoint His head, any one is so fond of cavilling as to deny that, because the box was broken, any could remain to anoint the feet of the Lord. But a man of a more pious spirit will contend that it was not broken so as to pour out the whole, or else that the feet were anointed before it was broken, so that there remained in the unbroken box enough to anoint the head.
Bede: Alabaster is a sort of white marble, veined with various colors which is often hollowed out for boxes of ointment, because it keeps things of that nature most uncorrupt. Nard is an aromatic shrub of a large and thick root, but short, black and brittle; though unctuous, it smells like cypress, and has a sharp taste, and small and dense leaves. Its tops spread themselves out like ears of corn, therefore, its gift being double, perfumers make much of the spikes and the leaves of the nard. And this is what is meant by Mark, when he says «spikenard very precious», that is, the ointment which Mary brought for the Lord was not made of the root of nard, but even, what made it more precious, by the addition of the spikes and the leaves, the gratefulness of its smell and virtue was augmented.
Theophylact, Matthew 26:2 : (p. 277) Or as is said in Greek, of pistic nard, that is, faithful, because the ointment of the nard was made faithfully and without counterfeit.
Augustine, de Con. Evan. ii, 78: It may appear to be a contradiction, that Matthew and Mark after mentioning «two days» and «the Passover», and afterwards that Jesus was in Bethany, where that precious ointment is mentioned; whilst John, just before he speaks of the anointing, says, that Jesus came into Bethany six days before the feast. (Jn 12,1) But those persons who are troubled by this, are not aware that Matthew and Mark do not place that anointing in Bethany immediately after that two days of which he foretold, but by way of recapitulation at the time when there were yet six days to the Passover.
Pseudo-Jerome: Again in a mystic sense, Simon the leper means the world, first infidel, and afterwards converted, and the woman with the alabaster box, means the faith of The Church, who says, My spikenard sendeth forth its smell. It is called pistic nard, that is, faithful and precious. The house filled with the smell of it is heaven and earth; the broken alabaster box is carnal desire, which is broken at the Head, from which the whole body is framed together, whilst He was reclining, that is, humbling Himself, that the faith of the sinner might be able to reach Him, for she went up from the feet to the head, and down from the head to the feet by faith, that is, to Christ and to His members.
It goes on: «And there were some that had indignation within themselves, and said, Why was this loss of the ointment?»
By the figure synecdoche, one is put for many, and many for one; for it is the lost Judas who finds loss in salvation; thus in the fruitful vine rises the snare of death. Under the cover of his avarice, however, the mystery of faith speaks; for our faith is bought for three hundred pence, in our ten senses (denarii, i.e. ten senses), that is, our inward and outward senses which are again trebled by our body, soul and spirit.
Bede: and in that he says, «And they murmured against her,» we must not understand this to be spoken of the faithful Apostles, but rather of Judas mentioned in the plural.
Theophylact: Or else, it appears to be aptly implied that many disciples murmured against the woman, because they had often heard our Lord talking of alms. Judas, however, was indignant, but not with the same feeling, but on account of his love of money, and filthy gain; (p. 278) wherefore John also records him alone, as accusing the woman with a fraudulent intent. But he says, «They murmured against her,» meaning that they troubled her with reproaches, and hard words. Then Our Lord reproves His disciples, for throwing obstacles against the wish of the woman.
Wherefore it goes on: «And Jesus said, Let her alone, why trouble ye her?» For after she had brought her gift, they wished to prevent her purpose by their reproaches.
Origen, on Matthew, 35: For they were grieved at the waste of the ointment, which might be sold for a large sum and given to the poor. This however ought not to have been, for it was right that it should be poured over the head of Christ, with a holy and fitting stream; wherefore it goes on, «She hath wrought a good work on me.»
And so effectual is the praise of this good work, that it ought to excite all of us to fill the head of the Lord with sweet-smelling and rich offerings, that of us it may be said that we have done a good work over the head of the Lord. For we always have with us, as long as we remain in this life, the poor who have need of the care of those who have made progress in the word, and are enriched in the wisdom of God; they are not however able always day and night to have with them the Son of God, that is, the Word and Wisdom of God.
For it goes on: «For ye have the poor always with you, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good; but me ye have not always.
Bede: To me, indeed, He seems to speak of His bodily presence, that He should by no means be with them after His Resurrection, as He then was living with them in all familiarity.
Pseudo-Jerome: He says also, «She hath wrought a good work on me,» for whosoever believes on the Lord, it is counted unto Him for righteousness. For it is one thing to believe Him, and to believe on Him, that is, to cast ourselves entirely upon Him.
It goes on: «She hath done what she could, she is come aforehand to anoint My Body to the burying.»
Bede: As if the Lord said, What ye think is a waste of ointment is the service of my burial.
Theophylact: For «She is come aforehand» as though led by God «to anoint my body», as a sign of my approaching burial; by which He confounds the traitor, as if He said, With what conscience canst thou confound the woman, who anoints my body to the burial, and dost not (p. 279) confound thyself, who wilt deliver me to death? But the Lord makes a double prophecy; one that the Gospel shall be preached over the whole world, another that the dead of the woman shall be praised.
Wherefore it goes on: «Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.»
Bede: Observe, also, that as Mary won glory throughout the whole world for the service which she rendered to the Lord, so, on the contrary, he who was bold enough to reprove her service, is held in infamy far and wide; but the Lord in rewarding the good the due praise has passed over in silence the future shame of the impious.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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