Who is this?
Palm Sunday begins our annual celebration of Holy Week, when the Church as a whole follows closely the events of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
Often when I try to explain what the Mass is to students, I begin by pointing out that the Mass is a ritual prayer. I suggest that the Mass is a prayer, because we begin and end our prayers with the Sign of the Cross – and the Mass also begins and ends in the same way. But the Mass is not just an individual, personal prayer. It is something that we can pray together, and what makes that possible is that it involves ritual.
And I point out that there is one ritual they are all very familiar with – a birthday party. There are always the same elements more or less present, and yet nobody is “bored” of birthday parties. On the contrary, it is precisely repetitive ritual elements which make it possible for others to join in. For the example, the song “Happy Birthday” – which is without fail almost always sung to the same tune – is not changed at every birthday party, and that is precisely why we can all sing it together.
And on an individual level, ritual allows us to enter in to things differently, because we’re not spending all our time trying to re-invent or re-learn things. They are already familiar, and so we can enter into, experience, and encounter other people and things through them.
And that’s really what Holy Week is all about, it’s about taking the time to ritually enter into, to experience, and encounter Jesus in His paschal mystery through the liturgies of Holy Week. The people in the Gospel reading of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem asked: “who is this?” Our participation in Holy Week is an opportunity to go deeper into our own version of this question. Jesus didn’t open a school or design a curriculum. He called disciples by name, and said: “follow me.” And like the disciples, it is only by doing just that – through the events of Holy Week – that we too will come to know the answer for ourselves to that question: “who is this?”