GOSPEL (Matt. XXI. 1-9.) At that time, when Jesus drew nigh to Jerusalem, and was come to Bethphage, unto Mount Olivet; then he sent two disciples, saying to them: Go ye into the village that is over against you, and immediately ye will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; loose them, and bring them to me; and if any man shall say any thing to you, say ye that the Lord bath need of them, and forthwith he will let them go. Now all this was done, that the word might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the prophet, saying: Tell ye the daughter of Sion, behold thy king cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt, the foal of her that is used to the yoke. And the disciples going, did as Jesus commanded them. And they brought the ass and the colt, and laid their garments upon them, and made him sit thereon. And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut down boughs from the trees, and strewed them in the way; and the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."Behold, thy king comes to thee." St. Matthew, 21:5.
On May 12, 1937, George VI was crowned king of England. The celebration lasted from May 5, one week before the coronation, until July 15. Almost every day had its celebration. There were ambassadors from every nation. There was a state dinner. There was a gorgeous procession through the streets of London. There was music and pageantry.
At least 25,000 Americans traveled overseas to see this sparkling spectacle. Some sat all night along the line of march just to catch a glimpse of the king. Many fainted from weariness and hunger in their desire to see His Majesty.
Today St. Matthew tells us about another royal procession. On that first Palm Sunday, Christ, the King of Kings, entered triumphantly into Jerusalem. Seated upon a donkey, surrounded by crowds, with the street strewn with branches and garments, Jesus rode into the royal city as the people shouted:
"Hosanna to the Son of David! "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord."This triumph of Christ is repeated in the many Eucharistic devotions of the Catholic Church.
1. Outstanding among these is the Forty Hours devotion. Most appropriately we speak of it as we enter Holy Week, for the Forty Hours is held in memory of the forty hours our Lord's body remained in the tomb. The devotion began in Milan, Italy, in May, 1537, and caught the Catholic heart of the world. Today at every moment some Catholic Church is keeping the Forty Hours.
It is a public proof of our faith in the Eucharist. It is a time of love and pardon, praise and pomp, a time when we again acknowledge Christ as our King during Forty Hours of ceremony, just as King George was honored during forty days. We too have processions. We too line the pathway of our King as He is carried among us. We also sing in honor of our Eucharistic Sovereign. We also have a state Banquet, Holy Communion. We also have private and public receptions for the special friends of our Eucharistic King. But, oh, how infinitely more loving and understanding and powerful and attractive our King is. Forty Hours is a triumph for Christ, echoing the triumph of that first Palm Sunday.
2. Another devotion is Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, it is the blessing of Jesus Himself, just like the blessing Christ gave the children, the very same blessing He gave His Apostles, the blessing He frequently bestowed on those who followed and heard Him.
The faithful of the Middle Ages wanted to "see the Lord" and look at Him. At the elevation of Mass they could look at Christ for just a moment. They wanted to look at Him longer. Our Lord is placed in a glass case and raised above the altar. Hymns are sung and prayers said. Incense is burned to represent our prayers rising up to our King. Flowers around the altar represent our virtues; the candles remind us of adoring angels and our own burning love.
This special blessing of our Lord, lasting about ten minutes, is given on Sundays, holydays, and when public services are held during Lent, October, May, and during missions and retreats.
3. Occasionally this service is drawn out to last about an hour, a Holy Hour, which is taken up with prayer, song, meditation and instruction.
Each of these Eucharistic devotions takes us back to the first Palm Sunday when the people honored Christ as he rode in their midst. Christ is just as really and truly with us today. He is right there upon the altar. He is with us during each Mass. All this began on a certain Thursday nearly two thousand years ago.
This coming Thursday, Holy Thursday, is the anniversary of that great day. On each Maundy Thursday we try to do special honor to the Blessed Sacrament. We enthrone our Lord in a place of special honor, surround Him with flowers and candles, and especially with the loving presence of the people for whom He died, the people to whom He gave Himself in the Eucharist.
This coming Holy Thursday, show your appreciation of this greatest of God's gifts by receiving Holy Communion, by spending some moments with Him, by praising and thanking and adoring Him here in His tabernacle home.
Join the joyful crowd of that first Palm Sunday. Throw your best gifts of body and soul at His feet and at His service. Acclaim Him King of your heart and your life. Pledge your loyalty to Him and His Kingdom.
If an earthly king is honored with days and weeks of celebration, surely the King of kings should be honored once in a while in a special way. Make this Thursday a day of love and grace and blessing.
Adapted from Talks on the Sacraments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne,OFM (© 1947)