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Palm Sunday 1979

Pope Saint John Paul II's Homily at Mass on Palm Sunday
St Peter's Square, 8th April 1979 - English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. During next week, the liturgy wishes to be strictly obedient to the succession of events. Precisely the events which took place in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago decide that this is Holy Week, the Week of the Lord's Passion.

This Sunday remains closely linked with the event that took place when Jesus approached Jerusalem in order there to carry out everything that had been announced by the prophets. Just on this day the disciples, by order of the Master, brought a donkey to him, after having asked to borrow it for a certain time. And Jesus sat upon it, so that also this particular detail of the prophetic writings should be accomplished in him. As the prophet Zechariah says: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass" (Zc 9, 9).

Then also the people who were going to Jerusalem on the occasion of the feast days — the people who looked at the acts carried out by Jesus and listened to his words — manifesting the messianic faith that he had aroused, shouted: "Hosanna! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest! (Mk 11, 9-10).

We repeat these words at every Mass when the moment of transubstantiation approaches.

2. In this way, then, on the way to the Holy City, near the entrance to Jerusalem, a scene of stirring triumph rises up before us.

"And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields" (Mk 11, 8).

The people of Israel look to Jesus with the eyes of their own history; this is the history that brought the elect people, through all the ways of their spirituality, their tradition, their worship, precisely towards the Messiah. At the same time this history is a difficult one. The reign of David represents the peak point of the prosperity and earthly glory of the people which, from the time of Abraham, many times, had found again their covenant with God-Yahweh, but had also
more than once broken it. And now will they form this covenant definitively? Or will they, perhaps, lose again this thread of the vocation which has marked the meaning of their history from the beginning?

Jesus enters Jerusalem on the donkey lent to him. The crowd seems nearer to the fulfilment of the promise for which so many generations had lived. The shouts, "Hosanna... Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord!", seem to want to express the meeting, now near, of human hearts with the eternal Choice. In the midst of this joy which precedes the Passover solemnities, Jesus is meditative and silent. He is fully aware that that meeting of human hearts with the eternal Choice will not take place by means of the "Hosannas",  but by means of the cross.

Before he came to Jerusalem, accompanied by a crowd of his countrymen, pilgrims for the feasts of the Passover, another had introduced him and had defined his place in the midst of Israel.

It was precisely John the Baptist at the Jordan. But when John had seen Jesus, who was wailing, he had not cried "Hosanna", but pointing at him had said: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1, 29).

Jesus hears the cry of the crowd on the day he enters Jerusalem, but his thought is fixed on John's words at the Jordan: "Behold him who takes away the sin of the world" (Jn 1, 29).

3. Today we read the narration of the Passion of the Lord according to Mark. There is a complete description of the events which will follow one another in the course of this week. And it is, in a certain sense, the programme of the week.

We stop in absorption before this narration. It is difficult to know these events in a different way. Although we know them all by heart, we always listen to them again with the same absorption. I remember when I was still a young priest and was narrating the Passion of the Lord to children, with what attention they used to listen! This was always a catechesis completely different from others. The Church, therefore, does not stop re-reading the narration of the Passion of Christ — and she wishes this description to remain in our consciences and in our hearts. In this week we are called to a special solidarity with Jesus Christ, "Man of sorrows" (Is 53, 3).

4. And so together with the image of this Messiah, for whom the Israel of the Old Covenant was waiting, and whom in fact it now seemed to have almost reached with its own faith at the moment of the entrance into Jerusalem, today's liturgy presents to us another image at the same time. It is the image described by the Prophets, particularly Isaiah: "I gave my back to the smiters...  ...and I know that I shall not be put to shame" (Is 50, 6).

Christ comes to Jerusalem in order that these words may be fulfilled in him, to realize the figure of the "Servant of Yahweh", by means of which the Prophet, eight centuries before, had revealed God's intention. The "Servant of Yahweh": the Messiah, the descendent of David but the one in whom the "Hosanna” of the people is accomplished, the one who undergoes the most terrible ordeal: "Those who see me mock me… …Let him deliver him, if he is his friend" (Is 21, 8-9).

On the contrary, the eternal plan of love was to be realized not by means of "liberation" from infamy but just by means of obedience unto death. And now it is no longer the prophet that is speaking, but the Apostle Paul, in whom "the word of the cross" found a particular way. Paul, aware of the Mystery of the Redemption, bears witness to him who "though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of a servant… humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2, 6-8).

This is the true image of the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God, the Servant of Yahweh. With this image Jesus entered Jerusalem, when the pilgrims, who were accompanying him along the way sang: "Hosanna". And they spread the garments and branches of trees on the road along which he was walking.

5. And today we hold olive branches in our hands. We know that these branches will then dry up. With their ashes we will sprinkle our heads, next year, to recall that the Son of God, becoming man, accepted human death so as to merit for us Life."

Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
Palm Sunday, 8th April 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "Auctor fidei nostrae..."—"the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (cf. Heb12:2): with these words, which come from the Letter to the Hebrews, we address Christ, at the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Week—the Week of the Lord's Passion—leads us to the very sources of our faith. Christ himself is this source. It was he who gained our salvation in an absolute way precisely through the Cross. Precisely because of the fact that he accepted the testament of Gethsemane and Calvary. Precisely because of the fact that he was bound, tried, scourged, crowned with thorns. Precisely because of the fact that he was condemned, that he fell beneath the weight of the Cross. And what can we say about the terrible torment of the agony on the Cross? Let us follow the traces of his sufferings, let us dwell with the utmost attention on every word spoken by him: in the Upper Room, in the garden of Gethsemane, before the Sanhedrin, before Pilate, and finally on the cross. There exists in all that an amazing consistency: the unity of testimony, of mission.

"Auctor fidei nostrae".

It is this very abasement, this emptying: "kenosis", that speaks to us. He wins our hearts because of the truth he taught. Perhaps he would not have won them if he had not confirmed it with this witness. We believe that he is the Son of God, precisely because in this way, right to the end, he revealed himself as the Son of man.

2. He spoke to us of God, and perhaps with that one sentence of the prayer at Gethsemane, or with the seven words he spoke on the cross, he told us who God is even more than in the whole of the Gospel.

The revelation of God becomes penetrating precisely because of the fact that "though he (Christ) was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:68).

The penetrating revelation of justice and, at the same time, of love, which is mercy! Justice, love, mercy would have remained concepts without an ultimate and definitive content, if there had not been this Passion and this Cross.

The revelation of this extreme "weakness" of God was necessary in order that it would be possible to manifest what his power is. It was necessary that "the death of God" should take place in the history of mankind in order that he might continually remain in our souls as source of the Life "welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14).

3. These are the thoughts, with which we address Christ today, calling him "the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith". With these thoughts we begin Holy Week today, Palm Sunday, and we wish to live it during all these days and especially during the Sacred Triduum. Meditating on all this, our faith is deepened even more.

May it become even more alive and vital through love.

Let us be born again from this death on which we shall meditate this week. Let hope live again in us.

4. There occurs in these days the month's mind of the late Cardinal Jean Villot, my Secretary of State, as he had been of my revered predecessors Paul VI and John Paul I. I recommend him to your prayers as brothers, all united in the sacred bond of charity, and I wish to recall today, and present once more to the admiration of all, his exemplary Christian, priestly and Episcopal virtues, among which there shone forth, throughout his life, faithful love for the Church, the Bride of Christ."