This year, at our parish, I found some things missing at our Palm Sunday mass.
I’ll start with the obvious one. Palms. Now, normally our cavalry of ushers is standing distributing palms before mass and bogarting them so it’s one a person and no more! But as I entered on Sunday, no palms to be seen or found in the narthex and the ushers weren’t handing them out. Which is fine because our parish does not bless the palms or do the procession. Now, we don’t do the procession because honestly, we have no place to gather to do it. We are essentially an urban parish and there is not an area large enough to accommodate the regular mass crowd much less what is typically the Palm Sunday mass crowd (more on that later). And the altar and pulpit (we have a pulpit in our church, a real, walk up the stairs pulpit) were adorned with palms and red, so to me, it was practically a non-issue because in my house, palms get all kinds of lost and my grandparents sent my kids an Easter card each year with a little money and each gets a Cross made out of palms.
Then there were no altar boys. One was seen rushing to the vesting area just before Mass. It was clear he was not scheduled and was stepping in to help out. And that made me notice there were fewer families than usual at mass that day. I think it was mostly because there was no catechism after mass this week. It was in smaller part due to the weather which was cold and pouring buckets of rain out of the sky. In fact, Jeff was all ready to take all three kids with me but the weather stopped that as we have one umbrella, it’s a golf umbrella so it doesn’t fit under the pew, and it’s the perfect opportunity for my kids to have a public fight. A lighter rain and we would have made it happen.
And that leads me to the third thing conspicuously missing: the crowd. Erin Manning calls them CAPE Catholics. Sacerdotus calls them A&P Catholics. Whatever they are, we all know there are Catholics that show up to mass on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Christmas and Easter. And the rest of the year, well, they don’t show up. In our area, we also have this interesting phenomenon of Protestants who attend mass on those days. We have two Episcopalian churches and our only Anglican church that distribute ashes and palms but otherwise, you’re out of luck. So, in droves, they crowd into Catholic parishes particularly on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Midnight Mass. Not this year. I have to say, and it may sound uncharitable, I felt like Cosmo Kramer on Festivus, “It’s a Festivus Miracle!”
I realize it’s uncharitable because it’s an opportunity to evangelize and minister to these people, but finding a parking space and a place to sit on Palm Sunday does feel a wee bit miraculous no matter how it happens.
Palm Sunday mass is one that slays me every year. Rips me apart and then quietly knits me back together. And this started when I was a young kid. Singing Hosannah! was so joyous and I was always excited, “The King is Coming” excited. We had some sort of children’s book about Easter either at home or at my church growing up and I distinctly remember a picture of Jesus riding on a donkey entering as people waved palms. And it scared me as a child to hear the congregation yell, “Crucify him.” In fact, I know I thought these people had lost their minds because I remember saying to my mother, “But they KNOW who Jesus is. Why are they yelling ‘crucify him’?!” And even long after I understood, even now, it still makes a lump rise in my throat and I can barely say the words myself. But after that difficult Gospel, I am then healed in the Eucharist and somehow made whole again.
And then the big surprise, we did end up getting palms. And instead of the one-a-person approach, the ushers set up card tables in the narthex and told us to take as many as we wanted. So, I got some for the members of my family who did not attend.
After rushing home, I handed each child (and their father) their palms saying to each, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosannah in the highest!” They were watching Brave and immediately palms became bows and arrows. It was like I was the hero of the day.
I had begun my day at 4 AM watching the Palm Sunday mass in St Peter’s Square. Pope Francis invoked the youth in his homily to, “Prepare well in your communities—prepare spiritually above all…” which was in preparation for World Youth Day in Rio in July, but I felt those words were apt to all this Palm Sunday. Prepare ye the way for the Lord, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosannah in the Highest!