Jarring transition between shouts of joy, somber reading of Christ's death a reminder of Christian journey to holiness

DETROIT — It was a cold and drizzly Palm Sunday when Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and the faithful crammed into the narthex of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

But after Archbishop Vigneron blessed the palms and led the procession down the nave, the faithful were already looking forward, singing praises to an eternal and symbolic sunrise in the form of Jesus Christ rising from the dead.

Palm Sunday presents one of the greatest contrasts of the liturgical calendar: a service that begins with songs of “Hosanna” but finishes with a somber reminder of Christ's death on the cross.

Archbishop Vigneron acknowledged these two extremes in his homily, explaining how the Palm Sunday liturgy is a microcosm of the contrasts in the Christian life. 

Palm fronds folded into the shape of flowers and crosses sit waiting to be blessed at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Palm Sunday.

“There is a pretty sharp scene in the two parts of sacred liturgy today,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “In the first part, a kind of overture. You might think of it as the joy in participating, at least sacramentally, in Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Then, with very little bridge, we get to hear in these Sacred Scripture readings, especially in the Gospel, the very acts by which Jesus was executed and died on the cross for us.”

This contrast between the triumph of Palm Sunday and the sorrow of Good Friday marks a turbulent time in the life of the disciples, Archbishop Vigneron said.

Archbishop Vigneron said the shouts of “Hosanna” from the crowd in Jerusalem — the same shouts the faithful proclaim during every celebration of the Eucharist — didn’t have the meaning God intended for His plan to save humanity.

“When the crowd used these acclaims, they were speaking in a political sense, they were speaking terrestrial, earthly words,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “They were greeting Jesus with expectations they had, that he would overthrow Caesar and restore the political power of the Jewish state. But on Good Friday, Jesus was crucified with the title ‘King of the Jews’ over his cross, and it transformed every notion of his kingship.”

Archbishop Vigneron kneels in prayer as the congregation reflects on Jesus' death during the reading of the Passion narrative during Palm Sunday Mass.

The contrast from a joyous Palm Sunday to a somber Good Friday is reflected in every Mass, where the faithful recall Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and celebrate his resurrection.

It is this dichotomy that brings about the transformative nature of Christ’s passion, Archbishop Vigneron said: how Christ as a crucified and risen king establishes a kingdom not 2,000 years ago in a distant corner of the Roman Empire, but a kingdom that is perpetual and life-changing for its members.

“We accept Jesus as this crucified king, and we accept these days of humble sacrifice as our light, the meaning of our existence,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Not to achieve earthly success — we’re grateful for that when it comes — but to achieve the holiness that is light, with God’s daughters and sons, Jesus Christ’s victory over every evil. This is what we celebrate, in the sacred Triduum: How by dying, he merited us to rise and to enter into eternal life.”

The victory won by Christ on Good Friday is what Catholics around the world are beginning to celebrate this week, Archbishop Vigneron said, a victory over death that should be celebrated often and proclaimed everywhere.

Altar servers and seminarians hold candles during Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

“So please, Sunday after Sunday, when you sing out ‘Holy, holy, holy, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest,’ remember where we took those words,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “How Jesus had to die in order for us to be transformed, so that we could continue to sing them and sing them in all honesty in a new way.

“As St. Paul says, everybody should be brought in singing with us, ‘Hosanna,’” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “That is why we’re engaged in this effort of evangelization, of ‘unleashing the Gospel.’ Because God has exalted Jesus, and given him a name above every name. And every knee in heaven, on earth and under the earth should bend at that name. And everyone should proclaim that Jesus is Lord.”