As we all began our celebrations of Holy Week with yesterday's Masses for Palm Sunday, I considered how very different these liturgies likely were this year from just a few years ago, and how very different they will be at this time next year. In many parishes across the country, Catholics might have heard the actual Entrance Antiphon for Palm Sunday - Hosanna Filio David - either the Latin version from the Gradual or perhaps one of the excellent English versions now available, such as Adam Bartlett's "Simple English Propers", rather than a substitute. The ready availability of these resources and their ease of use means that for the first time in many years, it was possible to celebrate the liturgy of Palm Sunday as it was intended rather than making it an occasion for creativity or an exercise in attempting to extract participation from the assembly at a time when the assembly's participation is neither envisioned nor required by the liturgical structure.
I always find the Procession for Palm Sunday fascinating, as it is one of the very few places in the Missal where there is both an Antiphon (Hosanna Filio David) AND a Hymn (Gloria, laus et honor) given for a specific liturgy. This is important because it makes clear the exceptional nature of THIS procession....a procession that is different from the processions of other Masses on other Sundays. Sadly, this high point has been diminished by the use of hymns for the procession on EVERY Sunday throughout the year, making this "Triumphant entrance" of Jesus into Jerusalem just like every other Sunday in the vast majority of parishes. How wonderful would it be if our celebration of Jesus's entrance into the Holy City were something exceptional, something out of the ordinary? Such is the genius of the actual liturgical structure of the Roman Rite, if only we could set our own vanity and personal preferences aside and celebrate it as it has been given to us!
Perhaps it will take some time...and a change of heart...before we are once again ready accept and follow the wisdom of 2000 years of tradition and liturgical development over our own desire to put our personal signature on our worship. It's a difficult step that will require a great deal of humility, and that's a rare commodity these days! But there is hope in the knowledge that there are more and more instances of faithful celebrations of the liturgy today than there were even a few years ago, and there will be more such celebrations this week than there were last year during Holy Week. And there will be an even greater number next year for the simple reason that when the liturgy is faithfully celebrated, it ALWAYS WORKS. Without fail...
And so as we enter Holy Week, we can perhaps approach our own celebrations with a renewed sense of humility. Are we celebrating what we are given, or do we still want to sign our own giant JOHN HANCOCK to all that we do? In years past there were so many excuses, but as we are given better texts, better musical settings and a greater awareness of our liturgical past, those excuses are withering and becoming tired.