Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Palm Sunday – Year A – April 5, 2020

With the invitation to unite, today and during Holy Week, our passion – due above all to Covi.19 – to the Passion of Christ so that we can share the joy of Easter with him.

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Roman Rite

Is 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11: Mt 26:14 -27, 66?

Ambrosian Rite

Is 52, 13-53,12; Sal 87; Eb 12,1b-3; Gv 11,55-12,11


 Due to the Covi-19 pandemic, this year Palm Sunday and Holy Week will be celebrated without popular participation. This does not imply that liturgical celebrations are private. They are and remain public. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, the Liturgy has by its nature a “public and social disposition”.

In the Encyclical Letter Misterium Salutis (September 3, 1965), St. Paul VI reiterated the teaching that the sacrifice of Christ, which is renewed in the Mass, is universal, that is, for the salvation of the whole world. This happens even when Mass is said in a so-called “private” form because, even if for some reason (and in these sad days due to the Coronavirus) there cannot be an assembly in the Church, it maintains a public meaning and contributes a lot ” to the salvation of mankind”.

In these pandemic days, a Mass celebrated by the priest alone is not the “priest’s Mass” and during Holy Week we will not have liturgical celebrations of the priest, but the “Service of God” celebrated by the priest in communion with the faithful entrusted to him as members of the “Mystical Body” which is the Church. However, we should not be considered the genitive form ”of God”  solely as objective (service that man renders to God) but also as subjective (service of God to man). So, it is not only the community that serves God but God too serves men giving them the “service of salvation” in Christ. In this regard, it should also be borne in mind that in the Mass the celebrant is Christ.

A liturgy thus understood is part of the essential manifestations of the life of the Church. Together with the proclamation of faith (mission that bears witness, that is, martyrdom) and with the service of charity (diakonía), the liturgy is a fundamental function for the Church. In the Sacrosantum Concilium the Second Vatican Council does not hesitate to assign to the Liturgy the highest rank by speaking of the “culmination towards which the action of the Church tends” and of the “source from which all its vigor emanates” (SC 10). “No other church action” reaches its effectiveness “in the same way and to the same degree” (SC 7).

If we keep in mind that the Liturgy is born from the Paschal Mystery of Christ and actualizes its fruits (sanctification of men and supreme glorification of God), it can truly be said that the Liturgy is the most precious, most effective and more necessary Church activity.

  • Palm branches to remember, not show.

Today’s liturgy should have started with the palm procession which involves the participation of the people. Let us be, at least in spirit, among the people who carry these palm branches. We are not the extras of a folkloric show but the followers of Jesus commemorating Him who does not stay in the sepulcher after the defeat of the Good Friday but emerges victorious from the tomb on Easter Sunday. Today’s triumph is the prelude to the Easter’s one when we celebrate the triumph of mercy. The cross did not bring Christ to death but to life.

Let’s begin this holy week remembering the greatness of the passionate love of God for men. For this love he decides to enter Jerusalem to surrender to his enemies riding a humble donkey. For his triumph Jesus chooses the animal of the simple common people of the country, and, most importantly, it is a donkey that did not belong to him but that he borrowed for the occasion. He does not come in a gorgeous royal carriage or on horseback, as the Kings of the world do, but on a borrowed donkey.

Today we are that donkey that leads Jesus into the world, reveals him and speaks of him, as the late Cardinal Jean Pierre Lustiger of Paris used to say. This is a” beautiful” picture because it reminds us that Jesus did not want to be led by imposing mounts but by the small and humble ones.

Jesus is a “poor” King and, therefore, a King of peace who has chosen the Cross as a throne. He is a brave King because he enters Jerusalem knowing that he will meet the Crucifixion, in order to ripen his fruit only beyond the Cross passing through it to enter into eternal life: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life “(Jn 12: 24-25).

The cross which is a symbol of death and of a curse that is the expression of the worst of all sentences, with Christ and for Christ becomes the instrument of elevation of all mankind and the entire universe in the glory of God (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch).

This is the Christian paradox: those who orient themselves to the eternal Kingdom following the instructions of Jesus Christ, are meek ​​, merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and thirsting for God’s justice. They can change the history of the world in a deeper and more efficient way than the powerholders for whom nothing is more important than supremacy.

It follows that the Cross is required. As Christians, we must not only direct our gaze to the permanent Kingdom beyond death and preach it. Together with Christ, we must live the need of the Cross so that for the Church and for the world  we can complete in our body what is still lacking in the Passion of Christ (” in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking  in the afflictions of Christ” Col 1,24 ).

All those who suffer, the sick, the hopeless, the prisoners, the tortured, the oppressed and those who are poor and hopeless need to know that in their situation they are not condemned to impotence. If they join their difficult hope or their painful despair to the hope of the Son of God on the Cross, they contribute to the construction of the true Kingdom of God much more actively than the many “architects” of earthly happiness. Of course men, and even more Christians, must do everything possible to alleviate the physical and spiritual suffering of humanity, but they should not forget the Beatitudes that Christ on the Cross does not deny but confirms: ” Blessed are you who are poor, for yoursis the kingdom of God.Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who now weep, for you will laugh. Blessed are you, when people hate you and when they exclude and insult you and denounce your name as evil on account the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. “(Lk 6: 20-24).

2) Jesus is truly the Son of God

The Redeemer therefore enters today in Jerusalem joyfully to reveal on the Cross the greatness of God’s love for mankind. It is a celebration that will have its summit on Easter Sunday, the day when He will show radiantly that He is the Son of God who loves us with infinite love. Like in the temptations in the desert (Lk 4:3.6), also on the cross the divine filiation of Jesus is at stake for whose saying “If you are the Son of God” (27, 40.43.44). A filiation denied and revealed that, for the same reason for which it is denied, displays its novelty. Everyone, even those who deny it, recognize that Jesus claimed a filiation that is expressed in the total abandonment to the will of the Father and not in competition with it. Even the Jewish priests say, quoting Psalm 22: “He trusted in God” (Mt 27, 43). The Greek word used by Matthew expresses the trusting obedience, the abandonment, the attitude of the one who put his live in the hands of another. The use of the past tense speaks of stability: Jesus has always, throughout his life, placed his trust in God the Father.

To put one’s life in the hands of another is the highest manifestation of dependency. In this way Jesus has expressed his consciousness of being the Son: not in the search and in the affirmation of a magnitude concentrated on him claimed in competition with the Father, but in a magnitude suspended in the listening to the Father and addressed to the Father. The filiation of Jesus refers to the Father.

Therefore, the priests unwittingly manifest the profound truth of Jesus. They show intuition by tying together his trust in the Father and his claim to be the Son (Mt 27, 43). However, they err in the way they look at the Cross.

For them, as for us, it should be the moment when the Father must respond to the confidence of the Son by coming to his rescue. Instead, it is the moment in which the Son shows his trust in the Father. The Father will respond, but later.

Jesus dies on the cross savoring to the bottom the abandonment. But just after his death, the perspective is reversed. The light comes only after the darkness has become thicker (Mt 27, 45).

One must be truly holy for the cross not to be scandal and absurdity.

It is not easy to accept that God saves humanity and manifests himself as the Savior of men in the total human failure, in the supreme humiliation, in the abandonment of the disciples, in the offence by those whom he had benefited and in the abandonment of the Father.

It takes a truly great faith to be able to recognize the Son of God in Him who on the cross cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” It takes great faith to recognize that this Man is the One in whom rests all our hope: hope in a man that cries out to the abandonment of God.

Two signs towards the end of the story of the Passion according to St. Matthew testify that the death of Jesus is salvation. The first is that the veil of the temple is torn (Mt 27, 51), the second is the recognition of the divine filiation of Jesus by the pagan soldiers (Mt 27, 54).

The judgment of the Jewish priests and of the passers-by was, therefore, false. The tearing of the veil of the temple is a response to the ridicule of the passers-by: the temple has really reached its end and a new perspective opens. The recognition of the soldiers is a response to the derision of Jewish priests.

Jesus is truly the Son of God because he stayed on the Cross rather than coming down, and while the Jews rejected him, the pagans recognize him. We, converted pagans, can see what others cannot see if our heart is pure.

A pure heart is not only when we hear “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” and instinctively think of the virtue of purity. This reference is undeniable: there is a “purity of heart” that is expressed in purity of thoughts, glances and gestures in the way we live our sexuality.

However, the most direct reference of the Beatitude to the “pure in heart” is not to uncleanness but to the hypocrisy that is to make life a theater in which one acts, wear a mask ,  cease to be a person and become a character. To cultivate the appearance rather than the heart means to give more importance to man than to God. Hypocrisy is thus essentially a lack of faith, but it is also a lack of charity towards our neighbor because it does not recognize his dignity.

According to the Gospel what decides if an action is pure is the intention, if it is made ​​to be seen by men or to please God (cf. Mt 6:2 – 6). The pure of heart in every word, gesture and choice reveals himself in a completely sincere, genuine, authentic way. The pure of heart is sincere, loyal, righteous, not ambiguous, not polluted. He presents himself; he does not perform!  He doesn’t borrow a different personality depending on the circumstances. “A heart is pure if does not pretend and is not stained with lies and hypocrisy. A heart that is as clear as spring water, because it does not know; a heart whose love is true and not only the passion of a moment“(Benedict XVI). As it is expressed by the consecrated Virgins who give everyday testimony of it in their total abandonment to Christ the Bridegroom. As it is expressed by the bishop during the prayer of consecration: ” Lord, our God, you who want to dwell in man take up residence in those who are consecrated to you, you who love free and pure hearts”.

Patristic Reading

St. Aurelius Augustine

Expositions on the Psalms ( En. In Ps 62,22)

Ah! brethren, need there was of the blood of a just one to blot out the handwriting of

sins; need there was of an example of patience, of an example of humility there was of the Sign of the Cross to beat down the devil and his angels; need for us there was of the Passion of our Lord; for by the Passion of the Lord redeemed has been the world. How many good things has the Passion of the Lord done! And yet the Passion of this Just One would not have been, unless unrighteous men had

slain the Lord. What then? is this good thing which to us has been granted by the

Lord’s Passion to be ascribed to the unjust slayers of Christ? Far be it. They willed,

God permitted. They guilty would have been, even if only they had willed it: but

God would not have permitted it, unless just it had been …

For what evil thing has befallen Christ, in that Christ has died? Both evil were they that evil willed to do, and yet nothing of evil did He suffer on whom they did it. Slain was mortal flesh, slaying

death by death, giving a lesson of patience, sending before an example of

Resurrection. How great good things of the Just One were wrought by the evil

things of the unjust! This is the great mystery of God: that even a good thing

which you do He has Himself given it to you, and by your evil He does good

Himself. Do not therefore wonder, God permits, and in judgment permits: He

permits, and in measure, number, weight, He permits. With Him is not iniquity:

Romans 9:14 do thou only belong to Him; on Himself your hope set thou, let

Himself be your Helper, your Salvation: in Him be there the fortified place, the

tower of strength, your refuge let Himself be, and He will not suffer you to be

tempted above that which you are able to bear, but will make with the temptation

also an escape, that you may be able to support it: 1 Corinthians 10:13 so that His

suffering you to bear temptation, be His power; His suffering not any more on you

to be done than you are able to bear, be His mercy: “for power is of God, and to

You, O Lord, is mercy, because You will render to each one after his works.”

IN BRIEF … The Passion of the Lord is celebrated: it is time to moan, time to cry, time to confess and pray. Who is able to shed tears according to the greatness of so much pain? (En. in Ps. 22, 1)


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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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