Monday, 17 March 2008

PALM SUNDAY: "The children of Israel carried olive branches..."

If you have never been to the pre-1955 traditional rite of Palm Sunday then you have missed something special.

It is increasingly being celebrated and its beautiful and ancient traditions are slowly being made more available to the Faithful who are fortunate enough to attend it.

This great service celebrates the entry of our Lord into the city of Jerusalem to be welcomed by His people as a king, a prophet and a saviour and as the very Messiah whom they had been awaiting for centuries but, in a few short days, were to reject.

This entry of the humble Christ into the city was foretold and prophesied by the prophet, Zechariah:

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth". (Zechariah 9:9-10)

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, when a Cardinal, attended a 1962 celebration at the Wigratzbad seminary of the the Fraternity of St Peter. At the end of the service he asked "Why did not the Subdeacon knock on teh church door with the bottom of the processional cross?"

Back came the answer: "It was stopped in 1955, your Eminence!".

"Oh!" exclaimed Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, "What a pity!"

Well, your Holiness, now is your chance to restore it in all its splendour!

This service is a particularly fine one, albeit lengthy (about 2 1/2 hours). The palms are blessed with many hymns, chants and prayers, and the people receive them, the choir singing Pueri Hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum (the children of Israel carrying olive branches), and there is a short-form mass at the altar. After this comes the Procession out of the Church, singing Gloria, laus et honor, tibi sit, Rex Christe Redemptor, and then back to the front door thereof.

At the door, 2 cantors enter and the doors are shut. They continue to sing and then the Subdeacon, outside, knocks on the door with the end of the processional cross. The doors open, to signify the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem and our entry into Heaven, and the procession moves back into the church, singing an ancient chant, Ingrediente Domino.

Then the main mass begins with many haunting and beautiful chants being sung, and then the Passion according to St Matthew in long form is sung, starting at the anointing of the feet of Jesus by St Mary Magdalene in the house of Simon the Leper.

This is a fitting way to recall the beginning of the Passion when our Lord was welcomed as a king and prophet into the holy city of Jerusalem by His people who, only days later, were to betray Him unto their Roman enemies to torture and death.

Soon many of those same Romans were to be converted whilst many of God's chosen rejected the very Messias whom they had been awaiting for so long.

In former times, the Roman Emperor would lead the Patriarch on a donkey up to the church door as part of the ceremonies and as a gesture of humility on his part. This tradition was continued by the Russian Tsars, also, until the custom was suppressed by the modernising, "enlightened" and very brutal dictator, Tsar Peter I.

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

Hosanna to the son of David!

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