STAYTON — “At the beginning of Mass the priest is prescribed to process to the sanctuary,” Father Randy Hoang explained last year at Immaculate Conception Parish here. “This may be likened to the image of our Lord processing on a donkey into Jerusalem to the place of sacrifice, Calvary. For us, that is the altar.”

Have you ever seen a real donkey in the back of your church? What would you do if Jesus processed into your church on a donkey? Each week our beloved priests, who’ve devoted their whole lives to be like Jesus, make a procession to the altar from the back of the church. What a marvelous moment. The musicians are proclaiming the news, the congregation is singing, and here comes the most sacred procession we may ever see.

Where are your eyes gazing? Usually, I have my head in my music book belting out the opening song. I remember when I was growing up, everyone turned their whole body towards the back of the church. Being too young to know why, perhaps people knew this tradition and the meaning behind watching the priest process by.

Over the years, I wondered if all congregations face forward during the opening song and the procession? Did the people in the church I grew up in hear a homily about what it would be like to witness Jesus riding in on a donkey to make the most sacrificial offering of our time?

When Father Hoang joined us at Immaculate Conception Church here right after he was ordained, he re-awoke this question for me by giving a three part talk on the Mass.

Over the course of three weeks, Father Hoang gave us an image of our priests representing Jesus, processing (on a donkey) into Calvary (a place of sacrifice) to the altar at every Mass.

Researching further into what Father Hoang was speaking about, it’s foretold in the Old Testament, “Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Behold; your King is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble, and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).”

Again we read in the New Testament, Jesus proclaiming, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, they remembered these things had been written about him and had been done to him (John 12:14-16).”

Jesus rode into Calvary on a donkey as a humble king of peace, not as a kind of ruler who customarily would ride on a horse. Jesus’s disciples couldn’t understand at first, but then remembered that Jesus had told them everything that would happen. Often, we also have a hard time understanding.

What would it be like if every time our priests process up to the altar, we think about how they are preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice, as Jesus did for us? How can we partake more deeply in this sacred moment? Next time you are at Mass on Sunday, imagine Jesus riding in on a donkey during the procession at Mass. As you continue singing, turn to see.

We turn back in time to think how Jesus was in Mary’s womb riding on a donkey to Bethlehem. God humbled himself from conception to the end of time. The Lord prepared to die riding on a donkey. Not on a horse.

Our priests humble themselves on every procession to the altar by sacrificing their own lives for the good of God’s holy church, by reenacting Jesus’s holy actions. We too are called to humble ourselves as humans, pick up our crosses, lay down our burdens, see the goodness of the Lord, and trust in God’s plan.

As I started, I will end, offering a quote from Father Hoang:

“Each time the holy sacrifice of the Mass is made, we are drawn into the paschal mystery of our Lord and enter into the eschaton, the final event in the divine plan; the end of the world, the gift of eternal life.”

Etzel is director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Parish in Stayton.