Holy water mingled with a misty drizzle on the steps of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., on April 14 as congregants gathered for the blessing of palms during the Palm Sunday Mass, which begins the solemnities of Holy Week. 

“Since the beginning of Lent until now, we have prepared our hearts by penance and charitable works,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, apostolic administrator of Washington, said in the introductory prayer outside of the cathedral. “Today we gather together to herald with the whole Church the beginning of the celebration our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, that is to say, of his Passion and Resurrection.” 

Cardinal Wuerl blessed with incense and holy water the congregation and the palm branches, which, in the Gospel, paved the way for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem before his Passion. It was custom in ancient times to lay palm branches before a king for him to walk upon. These palms will be burned and their ashes used in next year’s Ash Wednesday Masses. 

After the reading of the Passion from the Gospel of Luke, Cardinal Wuerl said, “What makes our remembrance and this ceremony different from any other kind of similar commemoration is that we do more than just call to mind what Jesus endured. We actually spiritually participate in those events.” 

The cardinal noted that he faithful’s sacramental participation in these events “is not as a viewer watching a parade, but rather, as those who are actually entering into the procession.”

The cardinal explained through the Eucharist, the faithful are able to participate in the mysteries of Holy Week. 

“In the Eucharist, that is at the very heart of our commemoration during Holy Week, the saving death and Resurrection of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery – is not just reenacted, it is made present,” he said. 

The drama of Palm Sunday and Holy Week reveal both the reality of the human condition – infidelity and betrayal – and God’s reality – mercy and forgiveness. 

“Our decision to be here at Palm Sunday Mass is our effort to open the doors of our heart to let in the Lord’s love and forgiveness and, at the same time, to challenge ourselves to bring others his light and forgiveness,” the cardinal said. “[...] My brothers and sisters, we are here because we need to be here.” 

As he concluded his homily, Cardinal Wuerl noted that as the blessed palms are brought home and placed in the home, they serve as reminders of people’s invitation into the sacred drama. 

“The palm at this Mass is a visible sign of Jesus’ love and mercy,” he said.