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Sunday, April 13, 2014

And so it begins...

Today, with the celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, the Church enters into her most sacred time of the year, Holy Week.

The Palm Sunday liturgy begins with the joyful, triumphant praises of Hosanna to the Son of David, the opening antiphon and progresses to the epitome of entrance processionals, All Glory, Laud and Honor.  We recall Jesus' triumphal entry into His own city, Jerusalem, and how the crowds chanted praises while waving palm and olive branches.

But, as the liturgy continues, we experience a shift from the joyful to the sorrowful.  We listen to a section of Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant (which we will hear throughout the week).  Then, we chant Psalm 22, My God, My God, why have you abandoned me, the psalm that Jesus quotes as he is hanging on the cross.  The psalm predicts what Jesus will undergo, the piercing of his hands and his feet and the casting of lots for his vesture. Then, we listen to St. Paul's Canticle, taking from his epistle to the Philippians, exhorting us to bend the knee at the name of Jesus and reminding us of Christ's obedience even to the point of suffering through death on a cross.

In the Gospel account, we live through the sacred moments of Jesus' Passion and Death. Twice a year, the Gospel proclamation is shared between the priest, the deacon and the people (with the priest taking on the part of Christ).  In Rome, it is traditionally chanted by three deacons, with the choir taken on the part of the crowd.

A dear priest friend of mine told me that he prefers to divide the Passion into parts (as listed in the above paragraph), where he reads the part of Christ and the faithful take on the role of the crowd.  He explained that, ultimately, we are that crowd.  That crowd speaks for us.  We need to remind ourselves that it was, as Isaiah proclaims in the first reading used on Good Friday, "He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole."  It is important that this reality confront us, head-on and impact us.  A lot of the time, we tend to water down our faith and not really focus on our need for conversion.  Sin is a powerful reality.  It is also deadly, more deadly than AIDS or any form of cancer.  Cancer and AIDS destroy the body; sin destroys the soul.  Jesus said, "Beware of the one who can destroy the soul."

In his homily, my priest friend said that all of us have a role in the Passion.  In fact, nearly every serious sin is found there:  sloth, envy, hatred, violence and greed.  The most serious of these is despair, the despair that Judas languished in because he believed that he was beyond salvation.  This is the worst sin against God because despair means that we do not believe that He can save us.  That is the ultimate death of the soul.

Moments after the account of the Passion, we relive the sacred mysteries of our salvation when we enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Jesus becomes just as present to us as He was to the Apostles who betrayed, denied and abandoned him, to the crowds who cheered for him in the beginning and then jeered at him towards the end and to Pilate, Caiaphas and the Romans who played a huge role in His Crucifixion.

Yet, as deeply profound as these mysteries are, many parishes sadly miss the boat in making the connection between the liturgy and the music for today's Mass.  They do not realize that with today's liturgy, we enter the high point, the summit of the Church's liturgical year.  So, what do these well-meaning parish music directors pick?  Very rarely will we pray the Introit and the Communion Antiphons (the Church's official music for the sacred liturgy).  Instead, choir directors select songs that really do not convey the sacred mysteries that unfold before us.  The King of Glory, One Bread-One Body, Our God Reigns, and other pieces lack the sober nature called for during this time of year.

I know I keep writing a lot about this issue, but there is cause for concern.  Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, in his excellent blog, WDTPRS, lamented about the emerging Magisterium of Sophomores, wherein students at a Catholic High School were protesting an address given by an orthodox priest which touched on some hard-truth issues.  I do not know if these students have been exposed to any liturgy (LifeTeen or otherwise); however, when the liturgy is watered down, that leads to a weakening in the Faith.  When the sacred mysteries no longer impact us and we replace the beauty and solemnity of the Mass with soft Christian pop music, we have contributed to the decline in our Faith.  Such a decline will eventually render us just as apathetic and slothful as the crowds on that first Good Friday.

As we go deeper into the mystery of Holy Week, let us pray that we will allow these sacred realities to permeate into our hearts and souls.

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