Passion Sunday has held special meaning for me ever since I participated in the annual procession and Eucharist for this feast celebrated at St. Peter’s Square in Rome back in 2001.
Rome knows how to do liturgy, and they do it up special on such days as this. The procession involved hundreds of people, all carrying large palm fronds to wave in the air in a modern-day reenactment of the triumphant welcome Jesus of Nazareth received when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. I was there as part of a delegation of 70-some young Catholics who had come to Rome to receive the World Youth Day Cross, which we were bringing back to Canada for our celebration of WYD in Toronto in 2002.
We began in the shadow of the colonnade next to the world’s most famous basilica. From there we moved into the sun and wound our way through the great piazza, eventually bringing ourselves to the outdoor altar and before the feet of the pope.
It was an absolutely exhilarating moment. The joy and hope in the air was palpable. The early spring weather was perfect and, to top it off, we were celebrating the Eucharist with our beloved Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul II). Our youthful contingent, led by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, was surrounded by Catholics from around the world, smiling and engaged and cheering with us. It reminded me so much of why I love being Catholic.
Our tradition gives us this time of celebration near the end of the long time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving we call Lent, mimicking Jesus’ own 40 days in the desert. And, as we recall this high point in the life of Jesus, we also know that the drama and anguish of the Passion awaits.
One of the great gifts of the Catholic tradition is our use of all the senses to bring our faith alive in our own times and circumstances. Celebrations such as Passion Sunday allow us to vicariously relive the time of Christ and make it our own. This way, our faith moves from our head directly to our hearts, where Christ makes His home.
-Joseph Sinasac, Novalis Publishing