By Fr. Richard Hinkley
Hosánna fílio David: benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini, Rex Israel: Hosánna in exscélsis.
Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.
This antiphon, taken from Matthew 21:9, provides the first words sung before the Procession or Solemn Entrance that precede the Mass of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. The cry hosanna hearkens to Psalm 118 which originally would have been used to accompany a liturgical procession of the Davidic king into the temple for sacrifice. Hosanna originally meant an entreaty for help: “O Lord, save! Grant us salvation!” This is how the word hosanna is used throughout the entire Old Testament. (See Ps 118:25) However, by the time of our Lord it had assumed the meaning we generally associate with it: “Praise and Glory!” Psalm 118 is further quoted by the crowd of disciples when they sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:26) While these are the only portions of Psalm 118 that are directly quoted here, the entirety of Psalm 118 casts light on the meaning of this messianic action by Christ and his followers. We recall that Psalm 118 is used on the following occasions liturgically: The Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter and the 4th Sunday of Easter. It is also used every other Sunday for Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. For the Church, Psalm 118 is a “resurrection psalm” perhaps the “resurrection psalm” par excellence. I would like to invite you to read Psalm 118 now, a psalm (like all of them) Christ would have known by heart, and consider how the words of that psalm contextualize the procession, the crowd’s activity, the city’s perplexity and ultimately the messianic mission Christ intends to accomplish in the coming days. I’ll leave you now to read Psalm 118.
Stunning, is it not? Christ, mounted on a colt, Israel’s true king is he who, “conquers the Daughter of Zion, a figure of his Church, neither by ruse nor by violence, but by the humility that bears witness to the truth.” (CCC 559) So consider Christ meditating on these words of the psalm: “In danger I called on the LORD, the LORD answered me and set me free… I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the LORD…. Open the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank the LORD…. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.” The children of the Hebrews quote the psalm; Christ fulfills it. The pilgrimage of Christ that has Jerusalem and his Pasch as its culminating goal began in the amenable and immaculate womb of the Virgin Mother thirty-three years before. All the mysteries of the Nativity, the hidden years, and public ministry of the Lord have now entered into their final and climactic days. The pilgrim, Priest-King of Israel, assuming the form of a slave, meets his people and allows them to ascend with him to the place of sacrifice and encounter with God, knowing full well how the intense suffering predicted in the Psalm are to be fulfilled. Yet as it is soon to be revealed, that place of sacrifice and encounter is no longer a temple built by human hands, but the true Temple: Jesus Christ.
In the course of the liturgy today, we observe how the cries of “hosanna” are replaced with cries of “Let him be crucified!” The expression of exultant praise is abandoned and yields to rejection and condemnation. As much as these two expressions are opposed to one another, recalling the original meaning of hosanna with its evolution from: a cry for salvation to an expression of praise and then followed by the sentence that Christ suffer and die: all this reveals the Wisdom of God for us and that of the Paschal Mystery. To save us (hosanna) God allows himself to be annihilated in the flesh (crucified), and in this the glory of God shines forth (hosanna)! And while our Salvation and the glorification of the Father is something God achieves through himself and his own might (Ps 118:15-18; 23) one of the fruits of the Procession with Palms is that he allows us sacramentally to join him in his triumphant entrance, to join him in procession to the altar of sacrifice, to accompany him into his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and thereby discover anew the reason for all things.
The heart of the Procession of Palms is to be found interiorly, in a soul that meekly follows the Lamb and boisterously cries out that the Lord is glorified in his saving works. This heart of the Procession is not beyond our reach this year. Whether we have blessed palms from this year or years past, or even some branches we cut down today, we have no less opportunity to acclaim him. To acclaim him in our hearts, to acclaim him through the prayers we pray individually or as a family, and to orient ourselves in the same direction as the Lord, moving each day this week towards the celebration of the Paschal Mystery. St. Thomas from last week provides us with the only instruction we need: “Let us also go to die with him.” (Jn 11:16)