Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blesses palms outside Princeton’s St. Paul Church April 14, Palm Sunday. John Blaine photo
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blesses palms outside Princeton’s St. Paul Church April 14, Palm Sunday. John Blaine photo

By Dubravka Kolumbic-Cortese | Correspondent

The sky may have been gray, but spirits were filled with hope as faithful gathered April 14 to witness Palm Sunday Masses throughout the Diocese of Trenton. The reading of the Passion, combined with special liturgical music and prayers, called to mind Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Mass in St. Paul Church, Princeton, beginning outside with the blessing of palm fronds.

“With all faith and devotion, let us commemorate the Lord’s entrance into the city so we may also have a share in his Resurrection and his life,” Bishop O’Connell said before sprinkling the palms and congregation with holy water.

“Like the crowds that welcomed Jesus, let us together go forth in peace,” he said, welcoming the faithful back inside the church for the rest of the liturgy.

Photo Gallery:  Bishop celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in St. Paul, Princeton

Photo Gallery: Palm Sunday in St. Ann Parish, Keansburg

A standing-room-only crowd gathered for the Mass, which was concelebrated by parish pastor Msgr. Joseph Rosie and Father Miguel Valle, parochial vicar. In his homily, Bishop O’Connell likened Palm Sunday to a liturgical doorway that leads to the “house” of Holy Week.

“Jesus enters Holy Week through the door that is Jerusalem, through the door that is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday.  As Christians, we enter the door with him, into this holiest of weeks.”

Bishop O’Connell pointed out how the view of the house changes as one moves through it – through the events of Holy Week. The joy expressed at Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem slowly turned to anger. Yet, although Jesus’ supporters mostly abandoned him in his final hours, his faith remained in place.

“Jesus Christ knows what we go through,” Bishop O’Connell said. “He’s been there. And he knows us, from the inside, and all of that is what he brings through the door of Palm Sunday to his destination on the Cross and beyond.”

In St. Ann Parish, Keansburg, where Father Richard Vila, pastor, celebrated Mass, music helped stir the congregation in preparation for Holy Week.

Music director Elvira Major said the music planned for Palm Sunday and the rest of Holy Week would largely be taken from the church’s music issue and missalette, “so the people can join in and sing … we do have one special piece, ‘The Holy City,’” which the choir sang for meditation following Communion.

Cantor Dana Deliso, who was cantoring for the first time at St. Ann’s, called the familiar hymn “Were You There?” a most heartfelt piece. “It just really tells the story of Good Friday and the Passion, and what Christ gave for us.”

Faithful of St. Paul Parish reflected on Palm Sunday and the Bishop’s homily.

Among them were husband and wife Nancy Bonus and Joseph Blasi, who have been parishioners for nearly 30 years.

“It was nice and concise,” Blasi said about Bishop O’Connell’s homily. “Palm Sunday brings back all the wonderful positives of Catholicism from my youth.”

It was the first Palm Sunday Mass at the church for new parishioner Frank McBrearity, who recently moved from Connecticut to be closer to his children and grandchildren. McBrearity, who calls his new parish community “dynamic,” said he enjoyed his first Mass with Bishop O’Connell.

“I liked his concept that this is a doorway into the future,” McBrearity said. “I can’t remember hearing that analogy before. It was very precise, in my opinion.”

Lifelong St. Ann parishioner Bridget Stolpe said that the readings for Palm Sunday and Holy Week always make her sad. “It’s a very solemn week for me,” she recounted. “By Easter Sunday, I’m still kind of feeling a bit sad, until he rises – and then it kind of puts it back into perspective.”

Thomas and Samantha Oddo, parishioners as a married couple in St. Ann’s for nearly 13 years, look at Lent and Holy Week as an opportunity to grow and become better people.

“It’s looking at what you’re doing and what you could do better,” Samantha Oddo said, “and teaching our kids … growing as an individual and as a family together.”

“When it comes to enriching ourselves spiritually, that [Lenten] sacrifice … often shows us what we’re truly made of,” Thomas Oddo said.

Before and after each Mass in St. Paul’s, members of the Hispanic religious education program sold wooden palm crosses outside the church. The students made more than 200 crosses with palms and artificial flowers, which they sold for $10 each to benefit parish mission programs.

Parishioners Carmelo and Lilian Mauro and their two daughters, Daniela, 12, and Angela, 15, stopped to buy a palm cross after the Mass. It was Angela’s first time participating as an altar server for Palm Sunday Mass.

Lilian Mauro said she found Bishop O’Connell’s homily moving and emotional. “It’s a very important day,” she said, “as we prepare for the celebration of Easter, to celebrate his [Jesus’] Death and Resurrection for our sins.” 

Eighth-grader Sol Del Cid, 13, spoke of the importance of the crosses for sale. She has been helping construct and sell the crosses since she made her first Communion. “God did a lot for us, and Jesus as well, and we need to do something at least to thank them.”

Olivia Gomez, 16, agreed. “It’s a beautiful way for us to be able to contribute to the community through our faith,” she said of the crosses. “They symbolize the beauty and simplicity of everything.”

Video taken by freelance photographer Hal Brown contributed to this report.