Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:8-9)
Today, on this solemn day of Palm Sunday, one week before Easter Sunday, we open the Mass with the blessing and procession of palms which signifies the Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem by Jesus as he comes to the City of David for the celebration of the Passover which will also be his Last Supper. We begin our procession at Holy Mass with a reading from the Gospel of St. Mark, which is fitting for Lent since Mark dedicated over one-third of his narrative to the Passion of Christ.
The Psalms are the great liturgical hymns of the Jewish people and also the prophetic ovations of the Messiah who would restore Jerusalem and cleanse the temple of infidelity. Thus, our quotation above from Sacred Scripture cannot be fully appreciated without its reference to Psalm 118. The acclamation, “Hosanna”, which means “save us”, comes from verse 25, while the proclamation, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is the fruit of verse 26. Finally, verse 27 of Psalm 118 declares, “Join in the procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar.” Psalm 118 was even quoted by Jesus himself – about himself – when he says that “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).
In opening the gate to Holy Week, we place on our bulletin cover a fragment of a work by the great Late Medieval or Proto-Renaissance Sienese painter, Duccio, entitled Entry into Jerusalem (1311). The style of painting in Siena, most prominent in Duccio, was eventually eclipsed by that of Florence (which also eclipsed Siena in Italian business and politics). Yet, we should be grateful that Siena could produce a Duccio who moved beyond the Gothic method just far enough to produce innovation, yet not too far into the oncoming humanism. The work of Duccio remains forever – pure, sacred art.
In our image for today (only a fragment of a larger work) we see as its outstanding feature a man who has climbed a tree to pull off palm branches to distribute to those below waiting near the gates of Jerusalem for the arrival of Jesus. At the same height, and to the right, we see two people looking over the wall representing the curiosity of the city. The art of Duccio is like a Byzantine icon made into a motion-picture. It is Gothic still-life made alive. Duccio paints postures of climbing and cling- ing and reaching and bowing; all in medieval variegated color. The latent poses and bright-eyed attentiveness of his figures exudes an excitement equal to the child-like fervor which could cause even a grown man to climb a tree! On the lower left of the work is a dead tree illustrative of the fall of Adam. However, Jesus sprouts from the “root of Jesse” (Is 11:10) becoming a fruitful arbor for all peoples.
The joy of Palm Sunday will become in today’s gospel reading the sadness of Passion Sunday. Yet this too will transform into the glory of Easter Sunday.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services