Palm Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week...

And the Mass at Saint-Eugène has reached the 'préface consecratoire'; it is 0234. I shut off the alarm at 0145; made a glass of tea.

Fr Giovanni Baptista Martini's In Monte Oliveti. Joseph Noyon's Jérusalem acclame.


Am presuming that the 'doors of the sanctuary' substituted for the doors of the church because of plague-nonsense. The solemn chant of the Passion of Our Lord according to Saint Matthew took some 40 minutes. Canon Guelfucci is homilizing; it is 0419. At the incensing at the Offertory, Théodore Dubois, the prélude and final chorus of his oratorio Les sept Paroles du Christ. Léna Lange-Bertaux and Costa Guillouet, violins; 
Augustin d’Oliveira, cello. The Agnus Dei from the Mass Exultate Deo of François Cosset. At 0510, it is done and it's time for Lauds.

Les sept Paroles du Christ of Théodore Dubois (about three-quarters of an hour), and an excerpt.

The Mass Exultate Deo of François Cosset, with its Sanctus, sung by the Schola Sainte-Cécile a few years ago.

And then Joseph Noyon's Jérusalem acclame

And the videos from Saint-Eugène today, Mass and then Vespers.

It has been quite windy since mid-afternoon. The window glass is knocking about, rain showers have blown through. Compline in about an hour: it's just after 1900.

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 to-day 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 praevalebunt 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 Santa 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 4th 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. 

The Blessing of the Palms 

According to the Ordines Romani of the 14th 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 basilican 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.

The collecta for the blessing of the palms begins with the Introit: 'Hosanna to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. O King of Israel: Hosanna in the highest'. This is the Messianic salutation which Christ, acclaimed today by the Gentiles, the children, the multitude, and the simple folk, awaited in vain from the Synagogue. Jesus, therefore, casts off the obstinate Sanhedrim, and turns instead to the nations of the Gentiles, who hail him as their God and their redeemer. [Hmm.] But the mercy of God is infinite, so Israel itself may hope for salvation if it too will go forth to meet the Messias, exclaiming with the Psalmist and the children: 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'. We should feel a great devotion for this act of faith in the Messias, so much desired by our Lord. The Church repeats it at the most solemn moment of the Mass, when Jesus Christ, at the call of his minister, is about to descend as Victim upon our altars. 

Then follows the Collect of benediction upon the assembled people: 'O God, whom to love above all is righteousness, multiply in us the gifts of thy ineffable grace; and since thou hast given us in the death of thy Son to hope for those things which we believe, grant us by the resurrection of the same to attain the end to which we aspire'. The form of the prayer is very fine, and the meaning clear and definite. The death of Jesus merits for us eternal life, but we attain to it through his resurrection, because the glorified Christ transfuses into his body-- the Church-- and its mystical members that holiness and that blessedness which fills the Head in the day of his triumph over sin and death. 

The lesson from Exodus (15,27; 16,1-7), with the narrative of the revolt of the Israelites against Moses, does not appear to be in keeping with to-day’s mystery. It was introduced by the Gallican liturgists of the Middle Ages, on account of the reference to the fountains of water and the seventy palm-trees, under the shade of which the chosen people rested. The Israelites, delivered in such a marvellous manner from slavery, murmur against Jehovah and sigh after the flesh-pots of Egypt. In this they were the forerunners of those who acted in like manner against the true Moses, their true deliverer from the slavery of hell, who was cursed and denied by them at the very moment that he was about to lay down his life for their redemption. 

The two alternative Graduals which follow have no bearing whatever on the ceremony of the blessing of the palms, and have been inserted here merely to fill in the gaps and to separate the two scriptural lessons. It is easy to see that the whole arrangement of today’s function, in spite of its apparent antiquity, is somewhat artificial; consisting, as it does, of various parts differing greatly both in inspiration and in origin, which have been joined together anyhow, without any real unity of design. 

The first Gradual is taken from St John (11,47-53), and describes the meeting in the house of Caiaphas at which, after the Pharisees had observed that Jesus was drawing the multitude after him, and was thereby exposing the Sanhedrim to the danger that the Romans-- ever jealous for their rights-- would sooner or later crush by force such insurrectionary movements for national independence, Caiaphas declared that it was expedient for one man-- that is, Jesus-- to die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish. The Evangelist insists on the fact that the words of the crafty pontiff had a far higher meaning than he was aware of, and that by reason of his office they were placed in his mouth by the Holy Ghost. 

The second Gradual is used only as an alternative responsory, and is borrowed from the first Nocturn of Maundy Thursday. It is from the Gospel of St Matthew (26,39-41), and tells us of the appeal of Jesus to his Father in his agony on Mount Olivet, of his submission to his Father’s will and of his admonition to the sleeping disciples to seek strength in prayer against the temptations and trials which were drawing near. It is not enough that the habitual dispositions of the will be upright; human nature is weak, and without the help of grace it will succumb. We must therefore pray without ceasing and never grow weary of asking for this succour of which we stand so much in need. The saints, and especially St Alphonsus, thus sum up the Catholic teaching concerning the necessity of prayer: 'He who prays will be saved, and he who does not pray will be lost.' 

Today’s Gospel from St Matthew (21, 1-9), with the account of the solemn entry of Jesus into the holy City, is known to have been used in the Liturgy at Jerusalem from the second half of the 4th century. In accordance with the prophecy of Zacharias, the Redeemer enters into Sion sitting upon an ass, to show the meekness and gentleness of this his first Messianic appearance. He does not wish to cause alarm by the rays of his glory, but desires to draw all men to his heart by the attraction of his presence. The ass and her colt-- which, according to the Gospel, were tied outside the walls of a village near the Mount of Olives, whence they were loosed by the Apostles and brought to Jesus-- represent the people of the Gentiles, excluded from the heirship of Abraham, deprived of the heritage of Israel, and held fast by the fetters of idolatry. The task of setting them free from their errors and of bringing them back to the true God was the great mission entrusted to the Apostles. 

The following Collect, according to the usage of the Roman Liturgy in the case of prayers of special importance, serves as a prelude to the consecratory anaphora of the olive branches. It therefore holds the same place as the Secret before the Preface of the Mass: 'Increase the faith of those that hope in thee, O God, and mercifully hear the prayers of thy suppliants: let thy multiplied mercy descend upon us; may these branches of palm or olive be blessed; and, as in a figure of thy Church thou didst multiply Noe going forth out of the ark, and Moses going out of Egypt with the children of Israel; so may we go forth to meet Christ with good works, bearing palms and branches of olive; and through him may we enter into eternal joy. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, world without end. Amen.' This prayer, so beautiful in form, and of such profound devotion, clearly explains the symbolism of the procession which is about to take place, and gives the reason why the lesson from Exodus about the seventy palm trees was chosen for today. The palm is awarded to the victor, and he who comes in safety out of Egypt well deserves the triumph of a conqueror. 

The anaphora [the 'préface consecratoire' ut supra] follows, which, in accordance with its primitive significance, is today a veritable Eucharistic hymn, a song of praise and thanksgiving to God for his transcendent holiness and the exceeding tenderness of his mercy towards men. 'It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we always and everywhere give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God; who dost glory in the assembly of thy saints. For thy creatures serve thee; because they acknowledge thee as their only creator and God : and thy whole creation praiseth thee, and thy saints bless thee. For with free voice they confess that great name of thy only-begotten Son, before the kings and powers of this world. Around whom the angels and archangels, the thrones and dominions stand; and with all the army of heaven, sing a hymn to thy glory, saying without ceasing [i.e. the Sanctus is sung]: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth. The heavens and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.' 

Then follows a number of collects of ancient origin and inspired conception, in which the Church seems to wish to pour out all her love for her Redeemer about to sacrifice himself for her. These various prayers originally formed a series of alternative collects; nowadays, however, the ceremony is much longer, for all these different forms of blessing, the Preface, the collects, etc., which were formerly substituted for, or rather excluded, each other, now constitute in our present Missal an integral part of the ceremony of the blessing of the palms. The result has been a function which doubtless is devout, but is somewhat lacking in proportion and harmony, a sure sign that it did not originally form part of the Roman Liturgy. 

The following Collect refers exclusively to the branches of olive, without any mention of palms, for these had become very scarce in Europe in the Middle Ages. 'We beseech thee, O holy Lord, almighty Father, eternal God, that thou wouldst vouchsafe to bless and sanctify this creature of the olive-tree, which thou hast caused to spring from the substance of the wood, and which the dove, returning to the ark, brought in its mouth; that all those who receive of it may be protected in soul and body: and may it become, O Lord, a saving remedy, the sacred sign of thy grace. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.' 

God is pleased to humble the pride of Satan by hindering him from harming Christians by virtue of the sacramentals, which consist mostly of small objects of devotion blessed by a priest and reverently kept by the people. The palms belong to this kind of sacramental.  'O God, who dost gather what is dispersed, and preserve what is gathered together; who didst bless the people who went forth to meet Jesus, bearing branches of palms; bless likewise these branches of palm and olive, which thy servants receive faithfully in honour of thy name; that into whatever place they may be brought, those who dwell in that place may obtain thy blessing, and, all adversities being removed, thy right hand may protect those who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who Iiveth and reigneth with thee...' etc.

In the following prayer all the symbolism of today’s ceremony is explained. As the multitude went forth with palms to meet the conqueror of death and hell, so today God anticipates for us the gift of the palm, in order to inspire us to fight more strenuously so that we may gain for all eternity that other palm of victory which will never fade nor wither. 'O God, who by a wonderful order and disposition hast been pleased to manifest the dispensation of our salvation even from things insensible; grant, we beseech thee, that the devout hearts of thy faithful may profitably understand what is mystically signified by the fact that on this day the multitude, taught by a heavenly illumination, went forth to meet their Redeemer, and strewed branches of palm and olive at his feet. The branches of palms, therefore, signify his triumphs over the prince of death; and the branches of olive proclaim, in a manner, the coming of a spiritual unction. For that blessed company of men understood that these things were then prefigured; that our Redeemer, compassionating human miseries, was about to fight with the prince of death for the life of the whole world, and, by dying, to triumph. For which cause they dutifully ministered such things as signified in him the triumphs of victory and the richness of mercy. And we also, with full faith, retaining this as done and signified, humbly beseech thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, that in him and through him we, whose members thou wert pleased to make us, may become victorious over the empire of death, and may deserve to be partakers of his glorious resurrection. Who liveth and reigneth with thee...' etc. 

There is no mention in the following collect of palms, but of olives, to which are added other trees as well; for, in northern countries, where this rite was specially developed, neither the palm nor the olive can grow on account of the cold. 'O God, who didst command the dove to proclaim peace to the earth by an olive branch; grant, we beseech thee, that these branches of olive and other trees may be sanctified with thy heavenly blessing, and so may profit all thy people unto salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.' The external rite is indeed a vain thing if the adoration of the heart does not accompany the words of the lips. 'Bless, we beseech thee, O Lord, these branches of palm or olive, and grant that what thy people this day bodily perform for thy honour, they may perfect spiritually with the greatest devotion, by gaining a victory over the enemy, and ardently loving every work of mercy. Through Christ our Lord.' 

Here the priest sprinkles the palms three times with holy water and offers incense. 'O God, who didst send thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, into this world for our salvation, that he might humble himself for us and call us back to thee; before whom also, when he entered into Jerusalem, that he might fulfil the Scripture, a multitude of believers, with most faithful devotion, strewed their garments in the way, with branches of palms; grant, we beseech thee, that we may prepare for him the way of faith, from which the stone of offence and rock of scandal being removed, our works may flourish before thee with branches of justice, that so we may deserve to follow his footsteps. Who liveth and reigneth with thee,' etc. 

During the distribution of the palms or olive branches, the cantors sing the following antiphons taken from the Gospel which has just been read: 'The Hebrew children bearing branches of olive went forth to meet the Lord, crying out and saying, Hosanna in the highest'. The children are given the place of honour today because God loves innocent and simple souls, and it is to them that he reveals his mysteries. 'The Hebrew children spread their garments in the way and cried out, saying, Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord'. 

After having distributed the consecrated palms, the following Collect is recited before forming the procession. 'O almighty and everlasting God, who didst ordain that our Lord Jesus Christ should sit upon an ass’s colt, and didst teach the multitude to spread their garments or branches of trees in the way and sing Hosanna to his praise; grant, we beseech thee, that we may imitate their innocence, and deserve to obtain their merit. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.' 

The deacon proclaims: 'Let us go forth in peace' while the people respond 'In the name of Christ. Amen'. 

The procession then sets forth, and although on this occasion it has a special significance, and is intended to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, it is in reality a survival of the ancient stational Sunday procession, which in the Middle Ages, and especially in Benedictine abbeys, regularly preceded the Mass. During the procession the cantors sing the following antiphons: 

Ant. (Matt 21): 'When the Lord drew nigh to Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples, saying: Go ye into the village that is over against you; and you will find the colt of an ass tied, upon which no man hath sat; loose it, and bring it to me. If any man ask you any questions, say: The Lord needeth it. They untied, and brought it to Jesus, and laid their garments upon it; and he seated himself on it. Others spread their garments in the way; others cut branches from the trees; and those who followed cried out, Hosanna, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; and blessed be the reign of our father David: Hosanna in the highest: O Son of David, have mercy on us.'

Ant. (John 12): 'When the people heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches, and went out to meet him; and the children cried out, saying: This is he who hath come for the salvation of the people. He is our salvation, and the redemption of Israel. How great is he whom the thrones and dominions go out to meet! Fear not, O daughter of Sion: behold thy King cometh to thee, sitting on an ass's colt, as it is written: Hail, O King, the creator of the world, who art come to redeem us.' 

Ant.: 'Six days before the solemnity of the Passover, when the Lord was coming into the city of Jerusalem, the children met him, and carried palm branches in their hands, and they cried out with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna in the highest, blessed art thou who art come in the multitude of thy mercy: Hosanna in the highest.” 

Ant.: 'The multitude goeth out to meet the Redeemer with flowers and palms, and payeth the homage due to a triumphant conqueror: the Gentiles proclaim the Son of God: and their voices thunder through the skies in the praise of Christ: Hosanna in the highest.'

Ant.: 'Let the faithful join with the angels and children, singing to the conqueror of death: Hosanna in the highest.' 

Ant.: 'A great multitude that was met together at the festival cried out to the Lord: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.'

Then follows the hymn Gloria, laus et honor, together with the ceremony of the cross-bearer knocking on the door of the church for it to be opened to the procession. Rome adopted this rite only at a much later time. The two choirs who answer one another from the interior and exterior of the church represent the divine praises which are for ever sung alternately by the Church triumphant and the Church militant.  

The Mass 

Station at St John Lateran 

The Mass begins upon the return of the procession, but its character is quite different from that of the blessing of palms, being more closely connected with the liturgy of the preceding days. For, while the prayers and antiphons of the former ceremony hail the Redeemer as victor over death and hell, the stational Mass, entirely Roman in composition, dwells chiefly upon his humiliation, his sufferings and his sorrows, as the Victim of expiation for the sins of the world. The sacred liturgy of these last days of Lent does not separate the remembrance of the Saviour’s Passion from that of his triumphant Resurrection, and this is the reason why the name hebdomada paschalis was formerly given to this week, and why mention is so frequently made of the Resurrection in the Mass and in the Divine Office both today and on Good Friday. Indeed, if the Pascha nostrum immolatus Christus begins on the evening of Maundy Thursday and continues throughout Good Friday, it finds its true fulfilment on the morning of the Resurrection, when he who was mortuus propter delicta nostra, resurrexit propter justificationem nostram. In the eyes of the early Christians the Paschale Sacramentum included this triple mystery, for which reason, even on Good Friday before the cross itself, they preannounced the glory of the risen Saviour. Crucem tuam adoramus . . . et sanctam resurrectionem tuam laudamus et glorificamus. 

The Introit comes from Psalm 21, that psalm which was on our Lord’s lips as he hung upon the cross, and expresses so truly his sufferings and humiliations, the anguish of his heart and his hope of a very near and joyful Resurrection. 'O Lord, remove not thy help to a distance from me; look towards my defence: deliver me from the lion’s mouth, and my humility from the horns of the unicorns'. The beautiful phraseology of the Collect shows that it belongs to the golden period of Roman liturgy. 'Almighty and everlasting God, who didst cause our Saviour to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should imitate the example of his humility; mercifully grant that we may deserve both to keep in mind the lessons of his patience, and also to be made partakers of his resurrection'. These words explain the full meaning of the sacred rites which will be carried out during the coming week. Jesus Christ crucified is, at it were, a book in which the soul may read all that God desires it to do in order to be perfect. They signify that we must realize in our own life those lessons of patient suffering and of expiation which Jesus teaches us from the cross. Lastly, we must keep before our mind the hope of the Resurrection which the Church always links together with the agony of Golgotha. 

The Lesson is from the Epistle of St Paul to the Philippians (2,5-11), in which he reminds us how Christ, laying aside for love of us the glory of his consubstantiality with the Father, took upon him the form of a servant and was obedient unto death, even the most cruel and ignominious death upon the cross. The expiation being thus complete, it is followed at once by his triumph and the inauguration of the Messianic kingdom. God sends forth his divine fire to bring warmth to the lifeless limbs of Jesus, which had been offered up to him on the cross. He breathes into them his own life, and to the name of the Saviour written up by Pilate in mockery over his sacred head, he gives such glory and power that it has become the sign of all those predestined to reign for ever with him in heaven. 

The Gradual is derived from Psalm 72, and foretells the triumph of Easter day: 'Thou hast held me by my right hand; and by thy will thou hast conducted me; and with glory thou hast taken me up'. The soul of Jesus burned with holy zeal during his Passion as he beheld the ruin of so many souls. For love of man he fearlessly faced the enemies of humanity, the devils and their allies, the impious and the wicked, and was nearly overcome by their malice, for by the agony of the cross his blessed soul was separated from his body, which endured the humiliation of the grave. But in all this the omnipotent hand of God ever upheld his only-begotten Son, and led him on the way to eternal life, crowning him finally with the triumphal glory of his Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. 

The Tract or Psalmus in directum is taken from Psalm 21, in which are described first the anguish of Christ and his feelings of humility and desolation, and of his filial confidence in God, then the triumph of the Messianic redemption, and lastly the coming of a new generation, which is the Church, to whom the Gospel message shall be delivered. The Gospel lesson from St Matthew (26-27) contains the whole narrative of the Passion of our Lord, from the Last Supper with his disciples to the placing of the seals on the sepulchre. The reading of it on this day is a very ancient Roman tradition, being attested by the Ordines of the 9th century. The remembrance of the sufferings endured for our sakes by Jesus Christ should be constantly revived in our hearts, that it may awaken in them those feelings of love and gratitude of which St Paul speaks: 'Christ has loved me, and has given himself for me. I live, but it is no more I who live, it is Christ who liveth in me. I live in his faith'. The Crucifixion should teach us three things above all others. Firstly, how great is the love which the Blessed Trinity has borne towards us, in having sacrificed for us Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God; secondly, how fearful a thing is sin, since it could not be atoned for except by the most bitter death of the Saviour; and thirdly, how high is the value of our own soul, which could only be bought with the blood of Jesus. St Paul ends his meditation on the Passion of Christ in these words: Empti enim estis pretio magno; glorificate et portate Deum in corpore vestro.

The Offertory comes from Psalm 68, which also refers to the Passion of our Lord: 'My heart hath expected reproach and misery; and I looked for one that would grieve together with me, and there was none: I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none; and they gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink'. Jesus spoke in the same accents of sorrow to St Gertrude and to St Margaret Mary Alacoque, expressing his great longing that souls especially dedicated to him-- priests and religious-- should enter into these feelings of his Sacred Heart and should make reparation and atonement with him and should thus console him by their love. 

Both the Secret and the Post-Communion are borrowed from the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas, and are of a general character. The antiphon for the Communion is from St Matthew (26,42): 'Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done'. When the faithful drew near, during the singing of these words, to drink the blood of Christ from the chalice held by the deacon, they understood clearly that by receiving Communion they became partakers in his Passion. For in the Mass, not only does Jesus Christ renew in a wonderful manner his sacrifice, but we, too, especially by virtue of Holy Communion, become united to him as members to the head, in order to abase ourselves, to immolate ourselves, to offer up ourselves together with him and to die in his death, so as to live in his life. This chalice of the Passion cannot pass away from us: we too must drink it, if we would carry out in our own lives the will of God.

It is also the feast of Saint Stephen (12th century), of Saint Joseph (20th century), and of Saint Jean-Baptiste (20th century).

V. Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum. R. Deo grátias.