Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. The Sacred Triduum (triduum from tres dies – “three-day space”) were once days of obligation when people were freed from servile work so that they could attend the liturgies, once celebrated in the morning. In the 17th century the obligation was removed under the influence of changing social and religious conditions. Hence the faithful lost sight of these beautiful liturgies, including the wondrous singing of Matins and Lauds or Tenebrae (“Shadows”). In general, only priests and religious in monasteries knew, and know, them.

Isn’t that a pity? People arrange their work schedules around dentist appointments and important sports matches, after all.

The Palm Sunday Mass includes the blessing of palm branches (or olive branches in some parts of the world, such as Rome) and a procession. In the Novus Ordo Missale Romanum a rubric includes something helpful for our understanding of Vatican II’s liturgical goal of our “active participation”: “… there is given a brief admonition, by which the faithful are invited to participate actively and consciously (actuose et conscie participandam) in this day’s celebration.”

Those words actuose et conscie are important. The Council Fathers did not primarily mean exterior participation when promoting “active/actual participation”. They meant mainly interior participation, the engaging of the mind, heart and will actively to receive what is being offered in the rites, in which Christ the High Priest is the true Actor. There is an interplay between the exterior and interior, which prompt each other, but interiorly active receptivity and our proper grace-informed disposition are far more important in logical priority than any outward action.

Speaking of exterior participation, this should be the natural result of interior participation. We naturally seek to express outwardly what we are experiencing within. While the two, interior and externalised, simultaneously influence each other, there is a logical priority to interior active participation, which is the more important by far.

In the case of Palm Sunday, we listen and watch carefully, we receive and internalise, and then our interior disposition bursts forth in the physical procession and the singing of Hosanna as we move as true baptised-enabled participants amid the mysteries which the sacred rites renew.

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