Sunday, April 09, 2006

Palm Sunday

St Clement's Church in Philadelphia

The great ceremonies of the "paschal" week – as this solemn period of seven days on which we are now entering was originally called – took place, as a rule, during the Middle Ages, in the pontifical residence in the classical palace of the Lateran. For this reason the procession of the palms or olive branches and the stational Mass are celebrated today in the venerable Basilica of the Saviour; that lasting monument of the victories of the Roman Pontiffs over idolatry, heresy, and the gates of hell, which for more than nineteen centuries have conspired against the Church, but which have ever been repulsed and defeated. Non prævalebunt adversus eam; Christ has said, and before one word of His lips shall be made void, both heaven and earth shall pass away.

In the late Middle Ages, today's station was sometimes, at the desire of the Pope, celebrated at the Vatican, and the blessing of the palms then took place in the Church of Sta Maria "in Turri," which stood in the atrium of the basilica.

We find preserved, in the blessing of the palms, the ancient type of the liturgical synaxes, of those assemblies, that is, for the recitation of the Divine Office, the instruction of the faithful, and so on, which were not followed by the celebration of Mass. This type of synaxis was taken from the Jewish rite used in the Synagogues of the Diaspora and formed part of the Christian ritual from the time of the Apostles.

The procession of the olive branches is derived from the ceremony witnessed by the pilgrim Etheria in Jerusalem at the end of the fourth century. In the West it was customary from the first to hold olive twigs in the hand during the reading of the Gospel; in Gaul a special blessing was first given, not indeed to the branches, but to the people who rendered this act of reverence to the Word of God. Later, there was added the procession before the Mass, which gave a greater show and importance to the olive twigs, and these finally, in their turn, received the sacerdotal blessing.

According the Ordines Romani of the fourteenth century the palms were first blessed by the Cardinal of St Lawrence, and were then carried by the clergy into the patriarchal basilica to the oratory of St Silvester, where the acolytes of the Vatican Basilica proceeded to distribute them to the people. The Pope himself performed the distribution among the clergy in the Triclinium of Leo IV, whence the stational procession moved towards the Basilica of the Saviour.

The Pope, having reached the porch, seated himself on a throne, and whilst the doors of the sacred building still remained closed, the primicerius of the cantors and the prior of the basilica at the head of their assistants intoned the hymn Gloria, laus, etc., which is still retained in the Missal. Then, at last, the doors were opened, and the procession made its triumphal entrance into the church and the great drama of the redemption of mankind began with the celebration of Mass. The Pope put on sacred vestments in the secretarium, but as a sign of mourning, in keeping with the sadness which pervades the whole Liturgy of this week, the basilicari did not on this day extend over his head the traditional mappula or baldachino, which was one of the marks of veneration and respect among the ancient peoples.

-from volume II of Bl Cardinal Schuster's Liber Sacramentorum He has several more pages on the Palm Sunday liturgy but most of it consists of the liturgical texts which you can find in your own Missal.

Audio clips of the proper chants from today's Mass can be found here.