Selected calls to prayer found in the Palm Sunday readings

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Entry into Jerusalem
Painting of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Alexander Gibbs. Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

While preparing to write on the readings for Palm Sunday, I was struck by the frequency with which these readings bring us into moments of prayer. From the joyful “hosanna” of Matthew’s Gospel during the processional, to the centurion’s confession upon Christ’s death in the Gospel reading from Mark, we enter again and again into prayer. We sing and weep, we lament, petition and give thanks. In each moment, we move with Christ as he enters Jerusalem to great fanfare, as he is anointed in Bethany, as he offers the first Eucharist, as he petitions the Father in Gethsemane, and as he expires upon the cross.

March 24 – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Mk 11:1-10

Is 50:4-7

Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

Phil 2:6-11

Mk 14:1–15:47

Thus, it is worth dwelling on each of these moments in juxtaposition: A “preview” of the great liturgy into which we will enter through the Triduum this coming Holy Week. Here I lay them side-by-side for your own prayer and contemplation.

From the processional reading:

“Hosanna! / Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! / Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! / Hosanna in the highest!”

From the Liturgy of the Word:

“When he was in Bethany … a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. … She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.”

“While they were eating, / he took bread, said the blessing, / broke it, and gave it to them, and said, / “Take it; this is my body.” / Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them … / ‘This is my blood of the covenant, / which will be shed for many …’ / Then, after singing a hymn, / they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

“‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. / Take this cup away from me, / but not what I will but what you will.'”

“When the centurion who stood facing him / saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!'”

Substantial prayer

In contemplating these passages, I am reminded of St. (Mother) Teresa’s description of Christ as the only one “substantial prayer.” Christ is prayer. He is the union and communion of the human and the divine in love, absolutely and totally. Christ unites us to God in prayer when we unite ourselves to him in love.

The readings for this Palm Sunday also offer us these moments to unite ourselves to Christ, and through him to the life of the Triune God.

Notice Isaiah 50:4, in which God opens our mouths and our ears to pray:

“The Lord GOD has given me / a well-trained tongue. … / Morning after morning / he opens my ear that I may hear.”

Notice, then, the words of Psalm 22, which Christ will cry from the cross:

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? / … But you, O LORD, be not far from me; / O my help, hasten to aid me.”

Notice how we join into the hymn from Philippians, praising the Incarnation:

“[Christ became] obedient to the point of death, / even death on a cross. / Because of this, God greatly exalted him / and bestowed on him the name which is above every name.”

And, finally, notice how we weep with Peter and then confess Christ’s Sonship with the centurion:

“[Peter] broke down and wept.”

“Truly this man was the Son of God!”

In each of these moments, as we encounter Christ in the Scriptures for this Sunday, we are also being woven into the prayer that he is. Again, I am reminded of St. (Mother) Teresa: “In reality, there is … only one voice that rises above the face of the earth: the voice of Christ. But in raising his voice, Christ raises our voices, too.”

Catherine Cavadini

Catherine Cavadini, Ph.D., is the assistant chair of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and director of its master’s program in theology.