Likening the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord to “a doorway to Holy Week,” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., celebrated Mass April 2 in Our Lady of Good Counsel, West Trenton, and spoke about the beginning of the holiest season of the Church calendar.
Palm Sunday in West Trenton ‘opens the door’ 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,” he explained. “As his followers, we Christians enter the door with him.”
The Mass, concelebrated by Father Ariel Robles, pastor, began with a procession led by children of the religious education classes bearing palm branches. As in parishes throughout the Diocese, faithful participants took on the role of the crowd during the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of Matthew.
PHOTO GALLERY: Palm Sunday in Our Lady of Good Counsel, West Trenton
PHOTO GALLERY: Palm Sunday in St. Monica, Jackson
“Today what we see from this door may be a bit deceiving: crowds cheering Jesus the King, palms and olive branches thrown before his feet, sung hosannas to the Son of David,” said Bishop O’Connell in his homily.
“Jerusalem is the place where prophets went to die,” he continued. “Jesus knew what was ahead of him… the crowd will turn ugly … No more hosannas – only shame, condemnation and spitting. Where did all the ‘glory, laud and honor’ go?”
Bishop O’Connell quoted from the First Reading the prophet Isaiah’s anticipation of who Jesus was and what he would experience, taking willing role in his own suffering and in ours.
“‘I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard,’” he said. “In Jesus Christ, ours is a God who is willing to suffer not only for us, but with us. There is no place in our humanity where God is not present.”
Parish council member Laura Shea noted that some of Bishop O’Connell’s remarks “hit home … they give you a sense of what this week means, from celebrating of Jesus’ entrance to the ultimate sacrifice … it really sets the stage.”
“For me the first reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday really sets the tone,” said Nancy Finn, second grade religious education teacher. “We see how Jesus was first praised as a king, then a few days later, what a change.”
Brenda O’Callaghan, parish religious education director, helped prepare the children for Palm Sunday. “Especially with our First Communicants,” she said, “we went over the story, explained how it was such a joyous time and they were in such awe of Jesus – and then in a short time he was taken away from us.”
Erin Spina, Our Lady of Good Counsel parishioner, attended the Mass with her husband Christopher, and children Brayden, Ryan and Victoria; Brayden served as altar server, while Ryan and Victoria helped lead the entrance procession with palms.
“I felt a deeper, more spiritual connection to God, and felt honored that Bishop chose our church for this Mass,” Erin said. “It was truly an honor to have him present [and hear] his prayerful words as we entered this holiest week.”
Preparing students to experience Holy Week is at the forefront of religious education programs in parishes throughout the Diocese. Karen Badach, director of religious education in St. Monica Parish, Jackson, noted that learning about Holy Week starts with absorbing the Gospels of the Lenten season.
“Each week of Lent, when the children come together before class, I have been discussing the Gospel message and talking about how that message applies to their lives; I ask, ‘What does that mean to you?’” Badach said. “As an example, I asked the children after hearing the Gospel of the Transfiguration, ‘How can you be transfigured to be more Christ-like?’”
She said that the Triduum is also discussed in depth each week. “I tell them we are Easter people and those days and the events of each day is what makes us Catholic Christians,” Badach continued. “We talk about the Sacraments given to us by Jesus at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, especially reminding them that the Eucharist is truly the Body of Christ and how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Holy Orders on that day as well. We discuss the importance of serving our fellow man following the example of Jesus when he washed the feet of the Apostles.”
Good Friday and Easter Sunday are also part of the discussion, she pointed out, not only to recall the events themselves, but also “why those events are so important. As I say to the kids, ‘What did that do for us?’ It's not only important to know the ‘what happened’ but to know why God sent his Son to die for us.”