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CELEBRATION OF THE PASSION OF OUR LORD
HOMILY OF THE POPE JOHN PAUL II
Palm Sunday, 23 March 1997
1. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.... Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10).
These acclamations of the crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover accompany the entry of Christ and the Apostles into the holy city. Jesus enters Jerusalem mounted on a colt, according to the words of the prophet: “Tell the Daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Matthew 21:5).
The animal chosen indicates that it was not a triumphal entry, but that of a king meek and humble of heart. However the multitudes gathered in Jerusalem, almost unaware of this expression of humility or perhaps recognizing in it a messianic sign, greet Christ with words full with joy: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). And when Jesus enters Jerusalem, the whole city is in agitation. People are asking themselves, “‘Who is this?’ And the crowds [say], ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee’” (Matthew 21:10-11).
This was not the first time that the people recognized Christ as the king they expected. It had already happened after the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, when the crowd wanted to carry him in triumph. Jesus knew however that his kingdom was not of this world; for this reason he had fled from their enthusiasm. He now sets out for Jerusalem to face the trial that awaits him. He is aware that he is going there for the last time, for a “holy” week, at the end of which the passion, cross and death await him. He faces all this with complete willingness, knowing that in this way the Father’s eternal plan will be fulfilled in him.
Since that day, the Church throughout the world has repeated the words of the crowd in Jerusalem: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. She repeats it every day while celebrating the Eucharist, shortly before the consecration. She repeats it with particular emphasis today, Palm Sunday.
2. The liturgical readings present the suffering Messiah to us. They refer first of all to his sufferings and his humiliation. The Church proclaims the Gospel of the Lord’s passion according to one of the Synoptics; the Apostle Paul, instead, in his Letter to the Philippians, offers us a marvellous synthesis of the mystery of Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (2:6-11).
This hymn of inestimable theological value presents a complete synthesis of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Good Friday to the Sunday of the Resurrection. These words from the Letter to the Philippians, progressively repeated in an ancient responsory, will accompany us throughout the Triduum Sacrum.
St Paul's text contains the announcement of the resurrection and glory, but the Liturgy of the Word for Palm Sunday concentrates primarily on the passion. Both the first reading and the responsorial psalm speak of it. In the text, which is part of the so-called “songs of the Servant of Yahweh”, the moment of his scourging and his crowning with thorns are sketched out; in the psalm the painful agony of Christ on the cross is described with impressive realism: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22 :2).
These words, the most disturbing, the most moving, uttered from the cross at the time of his agony, today resound in loud, obvious antithesis to that “Hosanna”, which also re-echoes during the procession with palms.
3. For several years Palm Sunday has become the great world day of youth. It was the young people themselves who paved the way for it: from the beginning of my ministry in the Church of Rome, on this day thousands of them have met in St Peter’s Square. Over the years, the World Youth Days have grown out of this event, whose celebration has spread throughout the Church, in parishes, in Dioceses, and every two years in a place chosen for the whole world. Since 1984, these world meetings have been held at two-year intervals: in Rome; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago de Compostela, Spain; Czêstochowa-Jasna Góra, Poland; Denver, the United States; and Manila, the Philippines. Next August the meeting has been set for Paris, France.
This is why last year during the celebration of Palm Sunday, representatives of young people from the Philippines handed over to their French peers the pilgrim cross of “World Youth Day”. This act has its own particular eloquence: it is a rediscovery as it were by young people of the significance of Palm Sunday, when they in effect take the lead. The liturgy recalls that “pueri hebraeorum, portantes ramos olivarum...”, “the children of Jerusalem ... carried olive branches and loudly praised the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Antiphon).
It can be said that the first “World Youth Day” occurred precisely in Jerusalem, when Christ entered the holy city; from year to year we are linked with that event. The place of the “pueri hebraeorum” has been taken by young people of various languages and races. All, like their predecessors in the Holy Land, want to accompany Christ, to share in the week of his Passion, of his Triduum Sacrum, of his Cross and Resurrection. They know that he is that “Blessed” One who “comes in the name of the Lord”, bringing peace on earth and glory in the highest. What the angels sang above the stable in Bethlehem on Christmas night, today resounds with a loud echo on the threshold of Holy Week, in which Jesus prepares to complete his messianic mission, achieving the world’s redemption through his Cross and Resurrection.
Glory to you, O Christ, Redeemer of the world! Hosanna!
JOHN PAUL II
ANGELUS - PALM SUNDAY
Sunday, 23 March 1997
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. At the start of spring those who are in the “springtime of life”, today, Palm Sunday, are celebrating the One who is the Life, Jesus Christ, because he alone has the words of eternal life and can transform all of life into springtime.
From 19 to 24 August next, young people from Ecclesial Communities throughout the world have been given an appointment in Paris to continue their great pilgrimage across the globe. The last, unforgettable stop took place in January 1995 in Manila. Dear young people, let us walk together on this pilgrimage of faith and hope, carrying the Cross of Christ, sign of the Love that saves the world.
See you in Paris!
2. It is only a few months until World Youth Day, which will be held from 19 to 24 August. I invite the young people from every continent gathered in this square and all of you listening to me on radio or television to come to Paris, France, for these days. In the meantime, do not hesitate to ask Christ the question his disciples asked in St John’s Gospel: “Teacher, where are you staying?” (John 1:38). With your friends from other nations and cultures, come and receive the answer which the Successors of the Apostles, your Bishops, will pass on to you: “Come and see” (John 1:46). With Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, with the Bishops and the whole Church in France which is preparing to welcome you, I am expecting you and say to you: do what you can to enter the third millennium as sons and daughters of God!
3. I greet the English-speaking young people here today. May this Holy Week and Easter be for you a time of profound conversion. May the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord lead each one of you to genuine commitment and joyful generosity in living your faith. I look forward to seeing many of you in Paris! God be with you.
4. I greet the young people of Spain and Latin America. I invite you, in communion with all the People of God who are journeying to the Jubilee of the Year 2000, to fix your gaze on Jesus, the Teacher and Lord of life, according to the words of the Gospel: “Teacher, where are you staying? Come and see” (cf. John 1:38-39). I also invite you to participate in the next World Youth Day, which we will celebrate this August in Paris.
On your journey of faith, dear young people, my affection and Blessing are always with you.
5. With great joy I greet the pilgrims and visitors from German-speaking countries, especially you, dear young people, who have come to Rome for World Youth Day. And I very cordially invite you to the world youth meeting in Paris, where we will gather on 24 August 1997 for a liturgy together.
I cordially greet the young people from all the Slavic countries and Poland. I also invite all of you to this great meeting — World Youth Day in Paris —where the hospitable French Bishops are expecting you, as are your hospitable peers.
I wish everyone here and everyone in the homeland a blessed Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Praised be Jesus Christ!
6. Dear young people, on our journey of faith we have an incomparable guide: Mary. Let us entrust to her the itinerary for our meeting in Paris. May the Blessed Virgin help us all, especially young people, to answer generously Christ’s invitation: “Come and follow me”.
HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER
16 April 2000
1. "Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini.... Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Matthew 21: 9; cf. Psalm 117 : 26).
In this surging cry we hear an echo of the enthusiastic welcome which the inhabitants of Jerusalem gave Jesus for the feast of Passover. We hear it again each time we sing the Sanctus during Mass.
After saying: "Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua", we add: "Benedictus, qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis".
In this hymn, whose first part is taken from the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 6: 3), the "thrice holy" God is exalted. In the second part, we express the assembly's grateful joy at the fulfilment of the messianic promises: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest".
Our thoughts naturally turn to the people of the Covenant who for centuries and generations lived in expectation of the Messiah. Some believed John the Baptist to be the one in whom the promises would be fulfilled. However, as we know, the Precursor answered the explicit question about his possible messianic identity with a clear denial, referring those who questioned him to Jesus.
There was a growing conviction among the people that the messianic times had now arrived, first through the Baptist's testimony, then through the words and signs performed by Jesus, especially because of the raising of Lazarus, which had occurred a few days before the entry into Jerusalem, of which today's Gospel speaks. This is why, when Jesus arrives in the city riding on a young ass, the crowd greets him with a burst of joy: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest" (Matthew 21: 9).
2. The rites of Palm Sunday reflect the people's joy as they wait for the Messiah but, at the same time, they are characterized as a liturgy "of the passion" in the full sense. Indeed, they open before us the prospect of the now imminent drama, which we have just relived in the account of the Evangelist Mark. The other readings too bring us into the mystery of the Lord's passion and death. The words of the prophet Isaiah, whom some like to see as an Old Testament evangelist, show us the image of a condemned man who is scourged and buffeted (cf. Is 50: 6). The refrain of the responsorial psalm, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me", has us contemplate the agony of Jesus on the cross (cf. Mark 15: 34).
But it is the Apostle Paul who, in the second reading, offers us the deepest analysis of the paschal mystery: Jesus, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant ... he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2: 6-8). In the austere liturgy of Good Friday we will listen again to these words, which continue: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (ibid., 2: 9-11).
Abasement and exaltation: this is the key to understanding the paschal mystery; this is the key to penetrating God's wonderful plan which is fulfilled in the paschal events.
3. Why are there so many young people present at this solemn liturgy, as there are every year? For some years now Palm Sunday has become the annual feast of young people. From here in 1984, the Year of Youth and, in a certain sense, their jubilee, the pilgrimage of World Youth Days began: passing through Buenos Aires, Santiago de Compostela, Czestochowa, Denver, Manila and Paris, it will return to Rome this August for the World Youth Day of the Holy Year 2000.
Why, then, do so many young people meet on Palm Sunday here in Rome and in every Diocese? There are certainly many reasons and circumstances that can explain this. However, it seems that the most profound motive, underlying all the others, can be identified in what today's liturgy reveals to us: the heavenly Father's mysterious plan of salvation, which is brought about through the abasement and exaltation of his Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. This is the answer to the fundamental questions and anxieties of every man and woman, especially the young.
"For our sake, Christ ... became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him". How significant are these words for our own lives! You are beginning to experience the drama of life, dear young people. You ask yourselves about the meaning of life, your relationship with yourselves, with others and with God. To your heart, thirsting for truth and peace, to your many questions and problems, sometimes even filled with anguish, Christ, the suffering and humiliated Servant, who humbled himself even unto death on a cross and is exalted in glory at the right hand of the Father, offers himself as the only valid answer. In fact, no other response is as simple, complete and convincing.
4. Dear young people, thank you for taking part in this solemn liturgy. With his entry into Jerusalem, Christ begins his journey of love and sorrow, which is the Cross. Look to him with renewed and zealous faith. Follow him! He does not promise illusory happiness; on the contrary, in order for you to achieve authentic human and spiritual maturity, he invites you to follow his demanding example, making his exacting choices your own.
May Mary, the Lord's faithful disciple, accompany you on this journey of conversion and growing intimacy with her divine Son who, as the theme of the forthcoming World Youth Day recalls, "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1: 14). Jesus became poor to enrich us with his poverty; he took on our sins, so that we might be redeemed by his blood shed on the cross. Yes, for us Christ made himself obedient unto death. Unto death on a cross.
"Glory and praise to you, O Christ!".
JOHN PAUL II
16 April 2000
1. Before concluding this celebration, I extend a warm greeting to all the young people present. Dear friends, next August Rome will host the great meeting for young people from around the world. I thank all of you, young Romans and Italians, for the commitment and availability with which you are preparing to welcome your peers. A cordial "thank you" also goes to the Puglia Region, which offered the olive plants and branches for today's feast.
2. I cordially greet the French-speaking youth present at this Palm Sunday liturgy. I am making an appointment in Rome with all young people for the 15th World Youth Day, and I invite them to come in large numbers to this great ecclesial meeting in the heart of the Jubilee.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking young people and pray that this Holy Week and Easter will be for all of you a time of prayerful closeness to Christ and of renewed commitment to the Church's mission. The new evangelization needs your energies and enthusiasm! God bless you all!
Dear young people from German-speaking countries, I am delighted at your presence. We have entered Holy Week with Jesus and have sung "Hosanna". May this cry be tempered by the Cross and lead to the joyful song of "Alleluia".
I greet the Spanish-speaking young people. Today you have joyfully accompanied Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. Also receive him with joy when he knocks at your door. I invite you to World Youth Day next August in Rome and bless you all with affection.
I affectionately greet the young people from Portugal and Brazil, wishing them all a Happy Easter in union with the Risen One, in the hope of meeting them again for this year's World Youth Day.
I cordially greet the Polish young people present in St Peter's Square. I thank you for taking part in today's Palm Sunday liturgy, as I also thank everyone who participated through radio and television. I invite all of them to World Youth Day, which will take place next August. Young Poles will certainly not disappoint us and many will come to Rome. God bless everyone!
3. I entrust all of you, dear young people, to Mary most holy, and once again I give you the Angelus prayer as I did in the Message I addressed to you. Meditate on it each day in order to become, after the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, authentic disciples of Jesus and witnesses to his Gospel.
24 May 2015, 15:00 SGT