To get deeper into the spirit of Holy Week, and to help you to do the same, I’ll be posting daily “soul boosts” containing the following: (1) a hymn tied to the liturgical day; (2) a timely Biblical text; (3) a beautiful piece of religious art; (4) a spiritual reflection; and (5) a Saint you should get to know (or get to know better). Today’s Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday (or “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord”).
Let’s start with the obvious: why does this day go by two different titles? It’s tied to the two Gospel readings. It’s called Palm Sunday because the people hold palm branches, and the Mass typically begins with us standing outside of the church and proclaiming the Gospel message of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (this year, Luke 19:28-40). Later in the Mass, however, we hear a second Gospel, about the Passion and Death of Christ (this year, Lk. 22:14-23:56). Think about it: the next time we’ll be at Sunday Mass, it’ll be Easter, so this is the last Sunday to proclaim the Passion before we arrive at the Resurrection. Everything in the liturgical year, and especially everything in Lent, has been leading to this moment, and to this week.
Hymn: Crown Him With Many Crowns
The prayer for Evening Prayer I of Palm Sunday is Crown Him with Many Crowns, and the selection is fitting. It captures three things: the adulation of the crowds as Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the foreboding Crown of Thorns of Christ’s Passion, and His final victory over sin and death. The hymn was composed in 1851 by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring. Thring was an Anglican curate and hymn writer, while Bridges was an Anglican convert to Catholicism. His bio is pretty interesting:
Matthew Bridges was born at Malden, Essex, on July 14, 1800. He began his literary career with the publication of a poem, “Jerusalem Regained,” in 1825; followed by a book entitled The Roman Empire under Constantine the Great, in 1828, its purpose being to examine “the real origin of certain papal superstitions.” As a result of the influence of John Henry Newman and the Oxford Movement, Bridges became a Roman Catholic in 1848, and spent the latter part of his life in Canada. He died in Quebec on October 6, 1894.
So Bridges wasn’t just non-Catholic before his conversion, but actively anti-Catholic. This hymn was released a few years after Bridges’ conversion, and (as might be expected from a hymn written by an Anglican and a Catholic), the full version actually mentions the Virgin Mary. Here’s the unabridged version of the hymn:
Crown Him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon His throne;
Hark! how the heavenly anthems drowns
All music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Through all eternity.
Crown Him with crowns of gold,
All nations great and small,
Crown Him, ye martyred saints of old,
The Lamb once slain for all;
The Lamb once slain for them
Who bring their praises now,
As jewels for the diadem
That girds His sacred brow.
Crown Him the Son of God
Before the worlds began,
And ye, who tread where He hath trod,
Crown Him the Son of man;
Who every grief hath known
That wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own,
That all in Him may rest.
Crown Him the Virgin’s Son!
The God Incarnate born,–
Whose arm those crimson trophies won
Which now His brow adorn!
Fruit of the mystic Rose
As of that Rose the Stem:
The Root, whence mercy ever flows,–
The Babe of Bethlehem!
Crown Him the Lord of light,
Who o’er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven–in earth–beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O’er Satan, sin, and death.
Crown Him the Lord of peace!
Whose power a scepter sways,
From pole to pole,–that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise:
His reign shall know no end,
And round His pierced feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.
Crown Him the Lord of love!
Behold His hands and side,–
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright!
Crown Him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save;
His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high.
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.
Crown Him of lords the Lord,
Who over all doth reign
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word,
For ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light,
Where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night,
Their God, Redeemer, King.
Crown Him the Lord of years!
The Potentate of time,–
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Glassed in a sea of light,
Where everlasting waves
Reflect His throne,–the Infinite!
Who lives,–and loves–and saves.
Crown Him the Lord of heaven,
Enthroned in worlds above;
Crown Him the King, to whom is given
The wondrous name of Love,
Crown Him with many crowns,
As thrones before Him fall.
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns,
For He is King of all.
Crown Him the Lord of heaven!
One with the Father known,–
And the blest Spirit, through Him given
From yonder triune throne!
All hail! Redeemer,–Hail!
For Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Scripture: The Old Testament Origins of Palm Sunday
To understand the background and significance of Palm Sunday, you need to know what this event would have meant to Jesus’ Jewish audience. Entering Jerusalem in this way said something very particular about Who Jesus Is (namely, the King of the Jews), and what He is all about (ushering in a Kingdom of Peace). It’s all laid out in Zechariah 9:9-12, 16-17:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. [….]
On that day the Lord their God will save them for they are the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. Yea, how good and how fair it shall be! Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the maidens.
Looking back, we can see clearly how Christ’s entry into Jerusalem is a perfect image of His humble kingship. We see also, in a way that the crowds on that first Palm Sunday never could have, just how powerful the Blood of His Covenant is, and the lengths He would go to set us free from our captivity to slavery.
Religious Art: Giotto, Entry into Jerusalem (1305)
From Giotto’s Life of Christ series, located in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The series was completed in 1305:
It is perhaps telling that all of the haloes are behind Christ, as it’s likely that many of the same people welcoming Christ into Jerusalem were also amongst those who condemned Him only a few days later.
Spiritual Reading: Giving God the Apple of Our Hearts
The juxtaposition of today’s two Gospels – of Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday – is a reminder of the fickleness of our own hearts. St. Francis de Sales, in Chapter 13 of Part IV of Introduction to the Devout Life, denounces the sentimental Christianity that it’s easy to mistake for true religious devotion. He says it better than I could, so:
I would say, then, that devotion does not consist in conscious sweetness and tender consolations, which move one to sighs and tears, and bring about a kind of agreeable, acceptable sense of self-satisfaction. No, my child, this is not one and the same as devotion, for you will find many persons who do experience these consolations, yet who, nevertheless, are evilminded, and consequently are devoid of all true Love of God, still more of all true devotion.
When Saul was in pursuit of David, who fled from him into the wilderness of En-gedi, he entered into a cave alone, wherein David and his followers were hidden; and David could easily have killed him, but he not only spared Saul’s life, he would not even frighten him; but, letting him depart quietly, hastened after the King, to affirm his innocence, and tell him how he had been at the mercy of his injured servant. Thereupon Saul testified to the softening of his heart by tender words, calling David his son, and exalting his generosity; lifting up his voice, he wept, and, foretelling David’s future greatness, besought him to deal kindly with Saul’s “seed after him.” What more could Saul have done? Yet for all this he had not changed his real mind, and continued to persecute David as bitterly as before.
Just so there are many people who, while contemplating the Goodness of God, or the Passion of His Dear Son, feel an emotion which leads to sighs, tears, and very lively prayers and thanksgivings, so that it might fairly be supposed that their hearts were kindled by a true devotion;—but when put to the test, all this proves but as the passing showers of a hot summer, which splash down in large drops, but do not penetrate the soil, or make it to bring forth anything better than mushrooms. In like manner these tears and emotions do not really touch an evil heart, but are altogether fruitless;—inasmuch as in spite of them all those poor people would not renounce one farthing of illgotten gain, or one unholy affection; they would not suffer the slightest worldly inconvenience for the Sake of the Saviour over Whom they wept. So that their pious emotions may fairly be likened to spiritual fungi,—as not merely falling short of real devotion, but often being so many snares of the Enemy, who beguiles souls with these trivial consolations, so as to make them stop short, and rest satisfied therewith, instead of seeking after true solid devotion, which consists in a firm, resolute, ready, active will, prepared to do whatsoever is acceptable to God.
A little child, who sees the surgeon bleed his mother, will cry when he sees the lancet touch her; but let that mother for whom he weeps ask for his apple or a sugar-plum which he has in his hand, and he will on no account part with it; and too much of our seeming devotion is of this kind. We weep feelingly at the spear piercing the Crucified Saviour’s Side, and we do well,—but why cannot we give Him the apple we hold, for which He asks, heartily? I mean our heart, the only love-apple which that Dear Saviour craves of us. Why cannot we resign the numberless trifling attachments, indulgences, and self-complacencies of which He fain would deprive us, only we will not let Him do so; because they are the sugar-plums, sweeter to our taste than His Heavenly Grace? Surely this is but as the fondness of children;—demonstrative, but weak, capricious, unpractical. Devotion does not consist in such exterior displays of a tenderness which may be purely the result of a naturally impressionable, plastic character; or which may be the seductive action of the Enemy, or an excitable imagination stirred up by him.
This Holy Week, give Christ the apple of your heart.
Saint to Know: St. Rufus
Today’s (second) Gospel mentions that as they led Jesus away to be Crucified, “they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus” (Luke 23:26). St. Mark, writing to the Christians of Rome, includes an additional detail, a significant one (Mark 15:21): “they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.”
Mark mentions these two men by name in the expectations that his readers know them, which is strong evidence that (at very least) Simon of Cyrene’s sons became Christians. St. Paul, when he writes to the Romans, likewise says (Romans 16:13), “Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” So it seems that Simon of Cyrene’s entire family was converted to Christianity. Saint Rufus’ feast day is November 21st.
St. Rufus, pray for us!