Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Palm Sunday is always a dramatic celebration in the life of a parish. Following the custom of the early Christian community in Jerusalem who processed from the Garden of Olives into the city, we gather outside for the blessing of palms and then walk in procession to the Church singing 'Hosanna' as we go. It is as if we are now part of that original crowd welcoming Jesus into their city and acclaiming him as their King and Messiah.
In fact this sense of becoming ourselves protagonists in the drama of Holy Week goes back to a very ancient understanding of time and salvation. When the Jews remembered God's saving action they were not simply recalling some past event. Through their remembering it was made present and they became part of it. This is the key to a correct understanding of the words of Our Lord at the Last Supper: "Do this in memory of me" means that when this event is recalled it is also made present.
The days of the Triduum are like a drama in three acts. In the early Church there was no Triduum. It was only when the number of adult converts became so large at Easter that some of the associated rites were carried out on the preceding days. We can see this pragmatic need affecting the liturgy, for example, at the time of St John Chrysostom. So instead of thinking of the ceremonies of the Triduum as three separate events it would be better to consider them as one liturgical action extended over three days. Perhaps it helps to remember that at the end of the Maundy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper there is no blessing or dismissal. The Good Friday Commemoration of the Passion begins without a introductory rites or welcome because it simply take up what began the night before. It too ends without a dismissal. Finally the first Easter Mass has no other beginning than the rites of the Vigil.
Understanding this structure can help us recognise that the Last Supper, our Lord's Passion and death and his Resurrection form one liturgical reality which is made present whenever the Mass is celebrated.