Palm fronds were distributed to parishioners after Mass.
Palm fronds were distributed to parishioners after Mass.
Preaching on Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., reflected on the start of Holy Week by comparing it to the image of a door to a house.

“When building a house, the location of the door is a critically important part of the planning,” Bishop O’Connell said in his homily during the 10 a.m. Mass he celebrated with a congregation in St. Paul Church, Princeton. The Mass was also livestreamed on all diocesan media sites and Bishop O’Connell offered his Palm Sunday Mass for the intention of all the women and men in law enforcement in the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton since the Blue Mass Committee cancelled this year’s Blue Mass due to the pandemic.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bishop celebrates Palm Sunday Mass in Princeton church

PHOTO GALLERY: Palm Sunday Vigil Mass in St. Ann Church, Keansburg

“The door is the entrance way to the rest of the house. It is the place from which a person gets a first glimpse and impression of what is inside. Sometimes, the first impression is the lasting impression. Sometimes, not,” he said. “Today is Palm Sunday. It is, liturgically speaking, the doorway to Holy Week. As we enter any house through its door, so Jesus enters the ‘house of Holy Week’ through ‘the door’ that is Jerusalem, through the door that is Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday. And, as his followers – a community of faith and belief in him, we Christians enter ‘the door’ with him into the holiest of weeks.”

St. Paul Church was the first parish in the Diocese for the Bishop to visit as part of his 2021 Holy Week observance. In the coming days, he will travel to St. David the King Church, Princeton Junction, for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 7 p.m. on Holy Thursday; St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, for the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion at noon on Good Friday, and St. Dominic Church, Brick, for the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. The Bishop will also celebrate the Chrism Mass on March 29 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, at 7:30 p.m. The Chrism Mass is closed to all except for the concelebrating priests. All Masses and services where Bishop O’Connell is scheduled to be present will also be livestreamed on diocesan social media platforms.

In his Palm Sunday homily, Bishop O’Connell elaborated on the meaning of Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem saying, “What we have to remember is that in the Scriptures, Jerusalem is the city where all of the prophets went to die.” And as faithful enter the front door, he said, “what we see can be a bit deceiving” as the crowds are there cheering and praising Jesus, throwing palm branches and olive branches before his feet and singing ‘Hosanna! to the Son of David.’ But as we move through the house that is Holy Week, however, we watch the environment change. We get a different picture and impression.”

“Soon, in the story of Holy Week, the crowd will turn ugly. The cheers will become jeers. The supporters abandon their palms and thin out. Even the apostles scatter as Jesus walks the path to Calvary. No more palms or olive branches, no more ‘Hosannas,” only shame, condemnation and spitting. Where did all the ‘glory, laud and honor’ go?”

As faithful pass through the front door and enter Holy Week, “we see Jerusalem before us, we see the king enter, we witness his Passion and we suddenly realize that the house does look a bit different than it did at that first glance. Our first impression didn’t last,” he said.

Bishop O’Connell urged the faithful to think about how God was willing to suffer not just for, but with them.

“There is no place in our humanity where God is not present. No place. No pit so deep, no moment so dark, no sin so vile, no loneliness so wrenching, no experience so painful that God has not been present in their suffering and redeeming first for us and with us,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“Jesus knows what we go through, everything we go through – and that is what he brings through the door of Palm Sunday to his destination on the Cross and beyond.”

After Holy Communion, Bishop O’Connell extended gratitude to Father Miguel Valle, pastor, for his invitation to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass with the St. Paul Parish community. The Bishop also acknowledged all who were watching the virtual livestream.

Then blessing palm fronds that were to be distributed as the congregation departed, he prayed, “Almighty and ever living God sanctify these branches with your blessing. That we, who follow Christ the King to exaltation may reach the eternal Jerusalem through him who reigns forever and ever.”