Palms, St Peter's, Pope Francis, youth of the world and sixty thousand faithful: what a start to Holy Week.
It’s Palm Sunday, 7.40am. Flocks of eager pilgrims are already pouring, ticket in hand, to St Peter’s Square here in the heart of the Church.
A silvery sky wraps itself around the marble white collonade and rays of white light gently cascade over the basilica, adorned for Palm Sunday mass.
Great olive trees rest at the foot of the steps, leading the way up to a red velvet altar.
Seats are filled and a buzz of excitement permeates the square, in anticipation of the coming of Christ on this special Sunday that leads us into Holy Week.
Music fills the air.
The procession begins.
To the majestic sound of the organ, young people carrying immense palms high in the air proceed two by two from the great bronze doors and through the piazza.
Trumpets sound. The bishops and cardinals follow the youth, decked in vestments of red and bearing palms forward in their own hands.
A choir’s song throngs the air, with “hosanna” hailed on every lip; a hush ensues as Pope Francis himself joins the procession, head bowed in prayer and followed by his altar servers. The crowds watch him pass, joining him in silent contemplation.
The procession arrives at the middle of the square. With palms held high by youth, bishops and crowd alike, Pope Francis begins with the Sign of the Cross.
“The Lord be with you."
“And with your spirit.”
He begins with the brief reflection: “Jesus enters into Jerusalem to give fulfillment to the mystery of his death and resurrection. Lets accompany with faith and devotion our Saviour in His entrance into the Holy City, and lets give thanks for his continuing until the Cross, so that we may be participants in His resurrection.”
The Deacon reads from the Gospel:
“…Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’…”
The procession then takes up once more and makes its way to the altar amidst thousands of palms swaying in the gentle breeze, ready to welcome Christ to the Holy City.
The Choir sings in harmonies of joy and anticipation “Glory to you, eternal praise, Christ King, Saviour, as the little children one time said in chorus: Hosanna!”
The Holy Father incenses the altar and the mass begins.
First Reading: Isaiah “…For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”
Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” …the sufferings and pain of every heart is sung up in this cry of the Lord’s, joining Him in His suffering on the Cross.
Second Reading: St Paul “…And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth…”
The Passion of Jesus Christ.
As the Passion begins and the readers walk us through the way of our Lord’s Cross, the skies clear and sunlight beams down over the basilica, piazza and all, keeping us in quiet contemplation of the greatest act of love.
Pope Francis gives his homily. Simple but profound, he calls us all to ask ourselves a question at this beginning of Holy Week after just having heard the Passion of our Lord: “Who am I?”
“Who am I in front of Jesus?” he asks.
“Am I capable of expressing my joy? Of praising Him? or perhaps I distance myself from Him…
“Who am I in front of Jesus who suffers?
“We have heard many names [in the gospel]…