This Sunday’s liturgy opens with a rite commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The remainder of the Mass focuses on his passion and death. Jesus, by rights a king, accepts humiliation and death to bring us mercy and forgiveness.
In the opening rite, the priest blesses palms, reminding us of the palm branches which some gospel accounts tell us the people strewed on the road ahead of Jesus (Matthew 21:8, Mark 11:8). After the blessing of palms. the gospel of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is read. This year’s gospel is Luke — Lk 19:28-40. Jesus rides on a colt, not a magnificent stallion, as might be expected of a king. This indicates his humility: he is not an earthly king, although the people, paraphrasing Psalm 118:26, acclaim him as a king and repeat the words of the angels at his birth proclaiming peace and glory. Some of the pharisees tell Jesus to quiet the crowd lest this seem to be a revolt against Rome, but Jesus insists that the acclamations are necessary, even though he has and seeks no political power.
The first reading of the Mass — Isaiah 50:4-7 — is the third of four “Servant Songs” in Isaiah. (We’ll hear the fourth on Good Friday.) It describes the servant’s sufferings in terms similar to what we read of Jesus in the gospels. But the servant does what the Lord calls him to do, and he has confidence in God’s help, so that his suffering will not be the final word.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 22 — has for its response the words of verse 2 which Jesus quoted on the cross (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). The selected verses tell of mockery and dividing of garments which, which we will also hear of in the gospel. Then we have a prayer for God’s help such as the suffering Servant of Isaiah counted on. The servant will proclaim God’s name.
The second reading — Phillipians 2:6-11 —takes us from Jesus’s inherent equality with God, through his laying aside of that equality in order to undergo suffering and the death on the cross, and culminating with his resurrection and glorification — an very compact account of the work of the Messiah.
The gospel — Luke 22:14 – 23:56 — takes us from the Last Supper to the burial of Jesus. At theLast Supper, Jesus emphasizes that they must serve one another, following his example. He gives Peter the role of confirming the faith of the others, and then predicts his threefold betrayal. After his agony in Gethsemani he is betrayed by Judas with a kiss. Peter fulfills the prediction of his denial. The Sanhedrin convicts him os blasphemy, but to Pilate they accuse him of opposing Roman power. While neither Pilate nor Herod find the charges valid, a crowd is incited to demand his crucifixion, and Pilate gives in. In his words to the women on the way to Calvary, there is perhaps a foreshadowing of the persecutions which his followers will have to undergo.
Twice on Calvary Jesus shows mercy: first praying for the forgiveness of his executioners, and later promising Paradise to the believing criminal crucified beside him.
Afte his death the centurion, a gentile, recognizes his innocence as do the Jewish crowd. The women followers know where he is buries, so they will know that the empty tomb of Easter is truly where he was buried.