Regardless of whether you follow the "Old" Julian Calendar or the "New" Gregorian one or split the difference with some combination of the two, Palm Sunday falls on today's date this year. Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week, which can be a very busy period for clergy and for laypeople who are particularly active in parish life. Holy Week will be a bit busier and a bit sadder for members of my Toronto-area parish this year; because our church recently burned down, we will be celebrating the services of Holy Week in borrowed and temporary spaces and must contend with the logistical challenges of setting things up only to break them down again later and generally figuring out how to make everything 'work' in new and unfamiliar locations. To say the very least, I'm sure that it will be a memorable experience. To comfort myself at the start of this year's Holy Week, I took a look yesterday at a group of photos from last year's Palm Sunday liturgy at the old church and chose the image that you see above to illustrate this post.
In a post from two years ago, I wrote about the temptation - which can sometimes be strong among people who are heavily involved in church life - to view the Paschal Triduum as "another damn thing," an added source of stress piled on top of all of our ordinary stresses and responsibilities, very few of which can be fully laid aside for the duration of Holy Week or the Triduum. This year, the academic and liturgical calendars collided in a particularly unpleasant way, with Holy Week falling immediately after exam week. Already exhausted from papers and exams (and often still having assignments to turn in), students in my position have little opportunity to recharge before launching into the Triduum. I'm sure that those reading this have their own challenges at this time of the year - after all, this is tax season in both Canada and the United States - so I'm not looking for pity but rather noting a phenomenon that I expect many people have to contend with at this point in the liturgical year.
And yet, even at a time of great stress, the desire and the need for Holy Week persists. I was reminded of this yesterday when I found myself thinking of an atypical Palm Sunday experience from a few years ago. I did not get to church in the morning because I had an early flight to catch, and after another connecting flight in the afternoon I arrived just before the evening meal in an unfamiliar Jesuit community a few time zones away from the place where I had started the day. I asked a resident of the house whether he knew where I could find an evening Mass. "Oh, don't worry about that," he answered, "you've been travelling!" I knew that my interlocutor meant well, but I didn't mind telling him that his advice was very unhelpful. "Father, I didn't ask for a dispensation," I said, "It's Palm Sunday, and I want to go to Mass." With the help of the Internet I located a nearby parish with a "last chance" Sunday night Mass and found my way there, able to once again take in the familiar words that I wanted and needed to hear that night, even if it happened to be the end of a long and exhausting day.
As this Holy Week begins, I also find myself thinking once again of some words that I have shared before from Alexander Schmemann: "Pascha. Holy Week. Essentially, bright days such as are needed. And truly that is all that is needed. I am convinced that if people would really hear Holy Week, Pascha, the Resurrection, Pentecost, the Dormition, there would be no need for theology. All of theology is there. All that is needed for one's spirit, heart, mind and soul." My prayer for Holy Week, for me and for you, is that we will "really hear Holy Week," taking in its sights, sounds, and words, and truly discover that all that we need is there. AMDG.