From palms to Passion: How can we enter fully into the mystery of Holy Week?

This detail of Jesus carrying his cross is from a stained glass window at St. Joseph Church in Peoria. (Father Dominic Garramone, OSB)

Living the Word l Sister Sandra Brunenn, OSB

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion/April 2

(At the procession with palms)

Matthew 21:1-11

(At the Mass)

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 — 27:66

Palm Sunday: a day of contrasts! In our liturgy we move from palms to Passion; from hope to heartbreak. Reflection beforehand is almost essential to enable us to enter fully into the mystery of this feast.

Sunday’s liturgy begins with an invitation to active engagement. From the outset, on Palm Sunday we are not simply observers; rather we are participants. As people gather we receive palms; at the solemn celebration we begin outdoors or in the parish gathering space or parish hall. All of this is a signal to us that the coming week is different! We are not simply remembering a story in the past; we are actively participating in an event that is continuing today.

First, we reenact Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with procession and joyful song; then the tone quickly changes and the Liturgy of the Word centers on reading the Passion narrative of Matthew’s Gospel. Again, we do not simply observe — we participate in the reading. Holding our palms we take on the voices of the people around Jesus. We become the sleeping disciples in the garden, a stance that might seem all too familiar? We become the crowd turning away from Jesus and condemning him. And we become the Cyrenian named Simon carrying the cross of Jesus to Golgotha.

Each of us might well consider: When in my everyday life do I fall asleep to the presence of Jesus in my brothers and sisters? Do I ever “deny Jesus” in order to be one with the “crowd”? When and how do I help Jesus carry the cross? How attuned am I to the suffering in our world, in our communities, and families today? And how do I respond?


Jesus of course is at the center of the Passion story. The second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians summarizes his stance. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God . . . emptied himself . . . coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

We might ask how we daily choose to live the Gospel requirement to die to ourselves for the sake of others. When I myself carry the cross of suffering, loss, and self-denial, do I learn from Jesus and follow Him?

In the garden, Jesus says “yes” to his Father’s will. He is silent before his accusers’ false accusations. He willingly gives up his Spirit on the cross. In love, Jesus embraces his suffering and death and freely gives himself for the sake of us all.

Here we might ask how we daily choose to live the Gospel requirement to die to ourselves for the sake of others. When I myself carry the cross of suffering, loss, and self-denial, do I learn from Jesus and follow Him? It is noteworthy that the verse immediately before today’s second reading is “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

As we remember the Passion and death of Jesus during this Holy Week, let us unite in prayer with those who are suffering from illness, malnutrition, war, poverty, climate displacement and natural disaster. We remember also Christians who are being persecuted and losing their lives for the sake of the Gospel. The 2022 World Watch List reports that more than 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith. That is one in seven Christians globally. Last year, more than 5,600 Christians were killed for faith reasons.

The suffering, dying, and rising of Christ continues. We as followers of Jesus are called to take up the cross and walk with Him, remembering always that Holy Week culminates in the Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, and that in Eucharist we are commissioned to be His body present today.

SISTER SANDRA BRUNENN, OSB, is director of initial formation for the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island. She has also served as a teacher, spiritual director, and pastoral minister, and was prioress of her Benedictine community from 2012 to 2020.


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