Thursday, March 29, 2007

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Sunday 1 April
Solemn Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance to Jerusalem, Procession and Mass of the Passion

We have the privilege this year of having Bishop Alan Hopes to preside at our Palm Sunday celebrations. Like Bishop Bernard, Bishop Alan is a great friend of the Chaplaincy and tries to visit us at least once a year.

Here he is after the Freshers' Mass in 2005, with the then Presidents of the UCL, LSE and KCL Cathsocs (Tracey Barret, Arthur Krebbers and Joe Matlak).

Our Palm Sunday Celebrations begin out on Gower Street, opposite the Waterstone's bookshop. Every year we have some bewildered looks from people travelling by to do their shopping in Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. We also have the annual wave of greeting from a minibus full of people, with The Jesus Army sprayed across its sides. What are we up to, people may well wonder.

The first part of the Mass is a commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem. It's not a commemoration like a nativity play is a commemoration of the Lord's birth. Rather, we ourselves welcome the Lord into our own vicinity, our own city. By our public witness, we are proclaiming Christ to be present even on Gower Street! The great Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner described mission thus: "The mission of the Church is not to carry Christ to the world as if he were absent from it. The mission of the Church is to help the world recognise Christ, who is already present".

The palms that we bless are carried triumphantly. They are little sacramentals, blessed objects, which we should then keep reverently. It is a good custom to place them behind the crucifix each one of us should have in our rooms. Next year, they are returned and burnt, to make the ash for Ash Wednesday. Triumph and tragedy, acclamation and betrayal are so often close companions.

After the joyful procession, the Mass takes on a more sombre tone as our minds are turned to the Passion of the Lord. The Passion is solemnly proclaimed, of course, on Good Friday, from the Gospel of John. But it is an event so immense, intense and profound that we hear it twice. On Passion Sunday it is proclaimed from the Gospel we are following for the year - this year it is the Gospel of Luke (Year C). The method of proclaiming the Passion varies, from a solemn chant to exquisite singing (some famous composers have set the Passion to sublime music) to a simple Proclamation in the usual way. At Newman House we follow the common Catholic custom of a narrative proclamation, with various people reading parts, and the whole congregation reading the parts of the crowd. It's a reminder of the theological point that we all in some way accuse Jesus and reject him, through our sinfulness. The sombre tone is emphasised when we reach the moment of Jesus's death, when we pause to kneel in silence.

Following a short homily, Mass continues in the usual way.

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