05Apr 05 April, 2020. Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday)

1st Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

The trust of the Suffering Servant (“I shall not be put to shame!”)

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Responsorial: from Psalm 22

Response: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me

All who see me scoff at me;
they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, if he loves him.

Indeed, many dogs surround me,
a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones.

They divide my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me;
O my help, hasten to aid me.

I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him;
all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

2nd Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

The self-emptying of God’s Servant, dying to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Matthew 26:14 — 27:66

A sober Passion Narrative, with emphasis on the fulfilment of Scripture

Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered. But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, “This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.'” The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of ilver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son.'” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o”clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and ha provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, “He has been raised from the dead,” and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.


During the Global Pandemic, O Lord, may your words be on our lips, and in our hearts. May they give us courage and hope – and draw us nearer to you..

Foreboding and hope

Holy Week this year is going to be very different from any we have known up to now, and we will all feel it. As we mark the great events that give us new life in Christ, we will do so full of the concern, anxiety, fear and sadness caused by the viral Pandemic. At the same time, we notice around us much evidence of compassion and solidarity and self sacrifice. May this time of testing somehow prove to be a time of grace for us all.

For Christians, remembering the last week of Jesus’ life is an act of hope as well as of compassion. We retell the whole story because our Jesus is risen from the dead. And this remembering has a practical effect. For as we do this in memory of him, the same compassion, forgiveness, love and healing practiced by Jesus are offered again to all present, precisely because he is risen from the dead. Our Christian memory is not a dead remembering but an effective union with the great events that gave us new life in Christ. (Kieran O’Mahony)

For Kieran’s exegetical notes on Palm Sunday, click here.

Entering into Palm Sunday

This account of the Lord’s Passion has vivid characters and a variety of episodes. To enter into it we can read it slowly and see if we can identify with different characters in it. Any one scene within the story can provide us with food for reflection and prayer. Our aim in reflecting on the Passion is to find the GOOD NEWS the story has for us. Here are some pointers for prayer.

  • The identity of Jesus is revealed as Messiah and Son of God, not by a display of power, but by being prepared to suffer even death to show how our God loves us. Does the Passion story offer you a glimpse of how God loves you?
  •  Jesus gives us an example of patient endurance and faithfulness in suffering, an experience we must all encounter. It is not really welcome, but sometimes we cope with it better than others. What have you found helps you to cope with suffering?
  •  As we read through the narrative of the Passion where do we find ourselves resonating with a character in the action? Is there a lifegiving message in it for us?

Characters in the Passion story

Our Lord Jesus was not the first person to die for a cause, nor the last. Neither was He the first or the last innocent man to be condemned. Even on Calvary, He was not the only one to be crucified, for two others suffered alongside him. The martyrdom of archbishop Oscar Romero forty years ago (March, 1980) reminds us how some have been killed just for sharing the message of Jesus. What then makes the Lord’s passion so different? Our Gospels tell his story in such a way that we can all feel involved.

The Passion brought out the weakness of his friends. First, his apostle Judas, one of the chosen twelve, who heard the accusing question, “Friend, why are you here? Would you betray me with a kiss?” Ans after Judas betrayed him, the other eleven panicked and also let him down. One phrase conveys this: “they all forsook him and fled.”

What of Peter, who was reckoned to be steady as a rock? Only a few hours before, he had boasted, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” But when Peter was cornered, a jibe from a servant girl his proud claim fell apart. “He began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man.” We are told that when Jesus turned and looked at him, Peter “went out and wept bitterly.” These were his friends, the ones who loved him and shared his company during the years of his ministry. In the crisis of his trial, not one of them stood by him.

How does the Passion of Jesus relate to us? Mysteriously, his cross is the means of our salvation. But it is also the story of our lives, of our failures and our recovery. There isn’t a part in the whole script that does not involve us. Like Peter in his pride and then in his denials and, hopefully, his later repentance. We also mirror the disciples who fled to avoid involvement. Perhaps we have something of the rigid spirit of Caiaphas and the priests, who were keen to reform others but not themselves. And let’s face it, there’s also a hint of Judas in us all. There are times and situations when Jesus could say to us as to him, “Friend, what are you doing here?”

On a more positive note, we can identify with the “Good Thief”, who was crucified alongside Jesus, who humbly asked for a final blessing: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Or we can join the centurion in charge of the execution who, on seeing how Jesus breathed his last, said “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Or we can join in prayer with the faithful ones who stood beneath the cross of Jesus “… his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Seeing them, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (Jn 19:25-27).

Our great week, Holy Week

This most solemn week of the liturgical year was once called the ‘Great Week‘ but nowadays we call it Holy Week. In it we witness the total self-giving of Jesus. St Paul describes it as his kenosis, the act of self-emptying by which Jesus made himself entirely receptive to the divine will. (“He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”) Paul goes on to affirm to total vindication of Jesus: “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”

This week we will try to follow Jesus every step of the way, beginning with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. There he was welcomed, applauded and acclaimed by a crowd of admirers. On Thursday we will join him at table, to receive his gift of himself in the eucharistic bread and wine. After dining with him we will, in our reflections, go with him along the trail from the Upper Room to the Garden of Olives. There we will see him struggling with fear and anxiety about the cruel death that awaits him. On Good Friday we will be standing in spirit beside his mother at the foot of the cross, while he hands his spirit back to the Father who sent him.

On Saturday we will be quiet and silent around his tomb, as we remember the injustice and cruelty of humanity, for which he died. Then, late on Saturday, we will move from the darkness of our Passion journey to the place of the bright Easter fire. There we will join the procession of the great Paschal Candle, representing the risen Christ, as he lights up the darkness of our church and lives.

The pain of our compassion with Jesus to Calvary will give way to the hope and joy of Easter. Jesus Christ is not dead and gone. No, he is risen, strong and powerful, alive in himself, and alive in us. Then we can hold in our hearts those assuring words that Juliana of Norwich in her vision of Christ Crucified. From his own lips she heard this promise: ‘All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well..

Healed by his wounds

“He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God’s only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, “without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

After hearing the Passion narrative there is no need to retrace in great detail the events there described. But we might reflect how Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. “Being in the form of God,” as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child; ” and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

In prayer we realise that the sweat-stained features of Jesus were the features of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the cross, the body wounded, the side pierced with a lance, were the flesh of the eternal Word, who dwelt among us. Why did he suffer so much? In the words of Isaiah, “On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole.” May the grace of his Passion bring healing to us.

dFhulaing sé go foighdeach ar ár son

Níor cheil mé mo ghnúis ar mhasla, mar tá a fhios agam nach mbeidh mé meallta. Ní fios go beacht cérb é an duine a bhí in aigne an fháidh Isaias nuair a chum sé an duan seo. An bhfuil sé ag labhairt faoina phearsa féin, ag pearsanú Iosrael, nó faoi dhuine fós le teacht. Is léir go bhfuil siad fíoraithe in Íosa Críost, ina bheatha agus ina bhás agus aiséirí. Cuireann an duan seo síos go hálainn ar a phearsa agus ar an mhisean a bhí aige. Bhí an bua ó Dhia aige fulaingt agus tuiscint a bheith aige dóibh siúd a bhí á chéasadh nó a bhí traochta. Fulaingíonn sé go foighdeach an méid is toil le Dia cur air, agus muinín iomlán aige as Dia go mbeidh toradh ar a shaothar. (Máirtín Mac Conmara: Machnamh)