Archbishop Alexander Sample
Archbishop Alexander Sample

This is probably going to sound rather strange to many of you, but sometimes I wish we did not read the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Palm Sunday. Why would I say such a thing? It is the longstanding tradition of the Church to do so, so why would I question the wisdom and practice of the Church in this regard?

I have been a priest for almost 28 years, and I must admit that I have preached pretty much the same message on every Palm Sunday for all that time. It is a message which seeks to “set the stage” for the events of Holy Week which follow. Specifically, it has been a heartfelt invitation, and even an urging, for the faithful to actively participate in the beautiful and powerful liturgies of what we call the Triduum. These are the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the celebration of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. My experience has been that the preaching of this message has largely not borne great fruit. Out of all the people who come to Mass on Palm Sunday, a small percentage generally come on Holy Thursday or Good Friday.

I could not understand why people would not want to come and participate in these liturgies. Why would we want to skip over these days and jump straight from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday? You see, in my mind, we celebrate the Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then, if we come just on Easter Sunday, we skip over all the events in between, which are the great events of our redemption.

But putting myself in the shoes of those in the pews who come on Palm Sunday, I realize that they do hear the story of the Passion of our Lord, i.e., his passion, death and burial. They hear of the events “in between” and so can reasonably next celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Having a deep love for the liturgies of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and desiring that we all experience those days together, you might see why I wish we didn’t “jump the gun” by reading of them on Palm Sunday. Far be it from we to suggest a change in our liturgical tradition, but sometimes I wish we left things at the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem to the cries of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday.

The celebration of the Lord’s Supper and of his Passion on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week are more than just a simple remembrance of those events that we can do without. We actually relive and make present those events. On Holy Thursday, we truly enter the upper room with our Lord and the Apostles. There he institutes the “source and summit” of the Christian life, the Holy Eucharist. We are there when he gives us the gift of the holy priesthood by which he perpetuates his presence among us, especially through the sacraments. We experience and celebrate his call to serve and love one another, symbolized by the washing of feet, as he did for the Apostles at the Last Supper.

On Good Friday, we are truly there. We follow him in the events of his Passion. We walk with him on the way of the Cross. We stand at the foot of the Cross with his holy Mother, the beloved disciple and the other women. We are truly there when he hands over his life for the forgiveness of our sins, conquering the power of death over us and opening the way to eternal life. We witness the sacrifice he offered on the altar of the Cross, which is renewed sacramentally for us in every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the altars of our churches.

Only then, at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday, can we most fruitfully stand at the empty tomb and peer in with Mary Magdalene and later the Apostles to see that he is not there. He has risen as he promised, and life eternal is now offered to us. We sing once again “alleluia,” the word we have fasted from during our Lenten pilgrimage to the Easter mysteries.

These events are the most important that have ever happened in all of human history, since the foundation of the world in the great act of creation by our God. As I said, we do not simply remember these events as we do a birthday, a wedding or any other important event in our lives. We actually relive them, make them present and are present to them.

In every Mass celebrated in our parish churches throughout the year, we also remember and make these events present in a sacramental way. That is why participation in the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days is vital to our lives as Christians, as true disciples of the Lord.

I won’t give up on my plea. Please look deep into your heart and ask yourself why you would not want to enter fully into these events of our salvation in Christ. Why would we not want to show our love and gratitude for the great act of mercy shown us by God in the passion, death and resurrection of his beloved Son? What is more important?

So, I hope we all see you on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. A blessed Holy Week and glorious Easter to all of you! May God bless you!