My thoughts on a people-less Palm Sunday

We have no palm leaves!

And there began our frantic search for what to do for Palm Sunday. The feeling of excitement and unpreparedness set in a few days before Palm Sunday. We searched for palms from our own garden and we placed them on our altar, door, window, gate or the wall of our houses. Others placed them on the table where they will watch the live-streaming of Mass alongside a Bible, a cross and candles.

Some, for the lack of palm trees, used pandan leaves, lime branches, or even dried palm leaves of previous years. Whatever it may be, we all want to do something for Palm Sunday and we shared over the social media what we did for our own “home Palm Sunday”.

Our thoughts, “we have no palms” echo the cry of our Mother Mary at the wedding at Cana, “they have no wine” (John 2:3). Jesus’ hour is here and for me Palm Sunday 2020 became a beautiful occasion to be grateful to God for his blessings upon us.

A Yearning

To miss Palm Sunday Mass hit us hard. It has always been a memorable moment for us. How happy we were to take a blessed palm, joined the procession and to place the blessed palms in our home. But this year, at the parish level, the priests felt helpless, our church wardens missed the management of a large expected crowd; the choirs missed their usual practices while the altar servers missed their turns to serve as this year was for some of them, the last opportunity to serve Holy Week before they leave for further studies next year. Even those who sourced and prepared the palm leaves for the parish churches felt it. A WhatsApp message from Beatrice of Sri Aman expressed some of their feelings, “sedih betul, .. kalau tahun-tahun lepas, kami semua akan bergotong royong cari daun palma untuk diberikan kepada gereja”.

The live-streaming of Masses showed empty Churches. The sense of an empty Church is more poignant when Archbishop Simon expressed how it broke his heart to see empty pews in St Joseph’s Cathedral, or when we see the Holy Father celebrating Palm Sunday with a handful of people in St Peter’s Basilica. How our hearts broke too as it now dawned on us that we will have to mark Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil at home. Our hearts pained for want of the Mass and the Eucharist. We cried at each Mass attended online. We wept when the Scriptures were read. We hurt to hear the sufferings of Jesus. We shed tears when listening to hymns which proclaimed how much God loves us. We feel as John of BSC said in a WhatsApp message, “like sheep confined to the stable for an extended period”.

Pain and sadness are also felt by those who have poor internet access in the rural areas and they cannot follow the Mass online or to gather at their kampong churches. Garry, a frontline Covid-19 medical personnel who has to work 12 hours daily, lamented on Palm Sunday morning, “without any palm leaves on my FB or my home ….. viewing from my office, I can see palm leaves at a distance …. I realised just how much a part of it played in our lives and how much we missed it”.

An opportunity

The Movement Control Order (MCO), however, has given us an opportunity to review our priorities, lifestyles, family values, faith, church and to come closer to God. There are many things of life and faith that we may have taken for granted. Now with the extra time on our hands, we may find ourselves attending Mass broadcast from all over the world two or three times a day, something that we would normally not do, or to do some spiritual reading.

Over the media, we may have seen what certain provinces and neighbourhoods in other countries are doing to show solidarity by way of music, dance and lights. Focusing on Palm Sunday, our small gesture of searching for a palm leaf became a symbolic manifestation of our faith and solidarity. The palm leaves we placed on our altar, door, window or gate showed that we are Christians. The palm leaves have also become a symbol that unites us all in our Lorongs, Jalans or Tamans. It is a symbol that unites all Christians – Catholics, Anglicans and all other Christians. It is indeed wonderful to see in a simple manner our unity and solidarity as Christians.

This week is called Holy Week in which we celebrate the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus, journeying with the Lord Jesus from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Following the Decree from the Vatican, the Liturgical Rites on some days will be shorter, especially on Good Friday and Easter Vigil. This year, we do not have to worry about coming to Church early at 2.00pm for the 3.00pm Good Friday Service or the long (about 3 hours) Easter Vigil Mass. We can attend all these Liturgies from the comfort of our home, the domestic church.

We take this year as an opportunity to mark Holy Week with a difference. Some of the things we can do as our own personal spiritual preparations are:

  • to read and discover more about Holy Week through the various resources available on the internet.
  • to read, meditate and reflect on the events that happened before Holy Thursday from the Gospel readings for the weekdays of Holy Week: Monday (John 12: 1-11); Tuesday (John 13: 21-33. 36-38) and Wednesday (Matthew 26: 14-25).
  • to recall your own personal pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Holy Land) tracing the footsteps of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem.
  • to pray for the medical Covid-19 frontliners, those infected and affected by it and their families, and an end to the pandemic.
  • to help the poor and those affected financially due to the MCO (see the Archbishop’s appeal:
  • to prepare and clean our altar and get a Cross to venerate on Good Friday.
  • to prepare and light a Candle at the Easter Vigil.
  • to enjoy an Easter meal together.

Indeed, the hour is here! Over the last few weeks of Mass-at-home, some have shared that they have felt the presence of God in their homes. It is truly amazing how God can work in our lives and how his presence can be felt even in our own lowly homes. May our homes always be a place of encounter with God and may you have a meaningful Holy Week.

gloria et laus
Fr Patrick Heng
Blessed Sacrament Church, BDC, Kuching