Asking God “to sanctify these branches,” Bishop Robert Deeley blessed palms to begin the celebration of Palm Sunday Mass of the Passion of the Lord, the final Sunday of Lent and the start of Holy Week, the most solemn week on the Christian calendar.
“This week sees the climax of the mission of Jesus Christ in which the deepest meaning of his life is unfolded and in which his teaching becomes very real for us in his own words and actions -- his suffering, death, and resurrection. It begins in triumph; it descends into the suffering of death on Friday and rises with joy in the resurrection of Easter,” the bishop said.
Palm Sunday Mass begins by recalling Jesus' entry in Jerusalem when palm branches were waved and cloaks placed at his feet. Parishioners received palms as they entered the cathedral, and the Mass opened in the rear narthex of the church, where the bishop blessed the palms and then walked through the cathedral, sprinkling holy water on those held in parishioners' hands. After Father Greg Dube, the rector of the cathedral, shared St. Luke's account of Christ's triumphant journey to the Mount of Olives, the palms were carried in procession up the central aisle of the cathedral to the sanctuary.
While the tone at the beginning of Palm Sunday Mass is one of joy, it soon turns more somber, as the focus shifts to the events of Jesus’ life that would occur just days later.
“Ultimately, our liturgy turns our attention to the central event of Holy Week, one which has been at the center of our reflection and penance all during Lent. I speak of the Passion and death of the Lord. For us, as Christians, this is the ultimate event of Jesus’ life. And, for that reason, that gives the further title to the celebration of today: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. The cross is the central event of the Passion. On the cross, Jesus is the Suffering Servant…the willing Servant, the One who gives himself on behalf of all humanity and in obedience to the will of the Father,” the bishop said. “That suffering won for all of us and all humanity the definitive victory over sin and hopelessness - a victory we declare and celebrate with these palm branches. These were the ancient world's symbol of victory.”
The bishop stressed the importance of reflecting, during this Holy Week, on the purpose of Jesus’ death, saying it both comforts and challenges us.
“By his self-giving act of dying on the cross, he redeems us; he saves us from our sins and reconciles us with God. The challenge is the call he gives us to be his disciples, to live like him,” the bishop said.
He urged parishioners to spend the week drawing closer to Christ and letting him win over their hearts.
"We should not let this Holy Week be like any other week. Spend some time reading over this beautiful story of the Passion from Luke’s Gospel during the week. Give the One who gave his life for each of us a chance to enter your heart this week,” the bishop said. “The week is holy because God is with us. Come to know him once again. His love gives life, hope, and joy.”
At the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass, the bishop was accompanied by those who will be baptized and received into full communion with the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil. They joined him in the narthex for the blessing of the palms and for the opening procession. Following the Mass, he met with them and listened as they shared the stories of their faith journeys.
The cathedral was adorned with palm fronds for the celebration of the Mass, including some placed at the foot of the Lenten cross. Some parishioners braided or weaved their palms, a longtime tradition. They will keep the palms in their homes until the approach of the next Lenten season, when they will be burned to create the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.
The vestments worn on Palm Sunday are red, the symbol of martyrdom and blood, a color that will be again used on Good Friday.
The celebration of Holy Week continues with the Chrism Mass on Tuesday, during which the bishop will bless the oil of the sick and the oil of the catechumens and consecrate the sacred chrism. The oil of the sick is used to anoint the sick, the oil of catechumens to bless those preparing for baptism, and the sacred chrism is used for baptism, confirmation, and the ordination of priests, as well as the consecration of altars and churches.
Celebrate Holy Week
To view additional Palm Sunday photos, click here.
To see Bishop Deeley's complete Holy Week Schedule, click here.
To view Holy Week events around the Diocese of Portland, including times for the Mass of Our Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the Celebration of the Passion of Our Lord on Good Friday, and Easter Masses, click here.