by Father John P. Cush
INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, the rubrics for the Mass of this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, state the following: “After the narrative of the Passion, a brief homily should take place, if appropriate. A period of silence may also be observed.”
On the one Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which we read of the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus, why would the Church, in her wisdom, suggest that “a brief homily” should take place? Why would Mother Church suggest that perhaps even silence might be more appropriate than a homily?
I believe because we should let these events of the Passion and death, so dolorous, yet so glorious speak for themselves. We should just listen to this story, one we have heard for many years, and just experience it.
We priests and deacons should most certainly prepare our homilies. They should be the fruit of our lectio divina, our sacred reading of the Sacred Scripture. These homilies need to be the fruit of our consecrated study, our time spent consulting good, Catholic biblical commentaries, referring the readings back to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church might have to say about the selections, looking up what the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as more contemporary sources, like the popes, might have said about the passages for the Sunday. We should spend our time praying with the readings, especially the Gospel to ascertain how it relates to the contemporary world, and, most especially, the specific needs of our parish community.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in “Evangelii Gaudium” (2013) states: “We know that the faithful attach great importance to it, and that both they and their ordained ministers suffer because of homilies: the laity from having to listen to them and the clergy from having to preach them!” (No. 135)
And this is essential. The most important teaching moment of our week as ministers of God’s Word and Sacrament come in the seven to 10 minutes that we have in our Sunday homily. Again, Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium” spends 24 paragraphs on the importance of the homily, stating that it is one of seven most important topics related to this new phase of evangelization in the life of the Church. So, I’m not saying we don’t need to preach or that preaching is not important – it most certainly is.
But on a day like Palm Sunday, maybe all the words, all the explanations we can give, perhaps it will just get in the way. For this Sunday, my advice is that all of us should just listen to the story as if we’re hearing it for the first time.
Listen to this fierce little human drama, all happening on the natural level. Listen to how fallen humanity’s sin, its greed, its jealousy, its hypocrisy, put to death He who is life. Listen to how the All Beautiful One is scarred, broken, bloodied, beaten, bruised for our offenses. Listen to how the Innocent One bears the weight of our guilt.
Look for how everything in this Gospel that is taking place on the human level is also taking place at the very same time on the supernatural level. As Pilate and Herod have their day on earth, from the underworld, does Satan.
Listen to this story with open, attentive and loving ears, fully conscious and fully aware of all that is happening and perceive it for what it is: the greatest love story told. He who is love, Jesus, He who is mercy, opens His arms wide on the cross in an embrace of love for you and me and, in His suffering, we share in that victory.
Listen in the silence. And recognize the truth in the words of the old hymn by Isaac Watts:
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Matthew 21: 1-11 (at the procession with palms)
Psalm 22: 8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Matthew 26: 14 – 27: 66 or Matthew 27: 11-54
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College and as an assistant professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.