Today is Palm Sunday. The day begins with the blessing of palms with holy water outside the church building. The Gospel read here is from St Matthew (21: 1-11) in Year A, St Mark (11: 1-10) or St John (12: 12-16) in Year B, and St Luke (19: 28-40) in Year C. The priest then leads the congregation in a festive procession into the church, celebrating Our Lord’s messianic entry into Jerusalem.

However, at the Mass soon thereafter, the mood changes from joyful to sombre, marking the beginning of the Holy Week. While the first two Readings and the psalm – Is 50: 4-7; Ps 21: 8-9, 17, 18a, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2: 6-11 – remain the same for cycles A, B and C, the Gospel changes from year to year, highlighting the three Synoptics: St Matthew (26: 14-27, 66), St Mark (14: 1-15, 47), and St Luke (22: 14-23, 56), respectively. They account for happenings going from the Last Supper up to the Death of Jesus.

St John is thus the only evangelist whose Gospel is not read at this Mass. The Beloved Disciple – who offers a unique perspective on the Divine Master, more theological and mystical – is very especially reserved for Maundy Thursday (Jn 13: 1-15) and Good Friday (Jn 18: 1-19, 42), besides two weekday readings. While the Gospel on Thursday focusses on the Last Supper, on Friday we hear a Passion narrative that begins with Gethsemane and ends with Our Lord’s Death on the Cross.

Coming now to the three Readings of today: in the First Reading (Is 50: 4-7), who is Isaiah talking about? He could well be referring to himself or to an archetypal prophet, for all prophets suffered persecution. Better still, Isaiah could be referring to the One who was to come: Jesus the Messiah! Jesus, the Servant of God, was an unparalleled Master, who was nonetheless obedient to the will of His Father in Heaven. Jesus is the model Servant who trusts in God and prevails over His enemies.

That the life of Jesus was a fulfilment of the prophecies of yore becomes clear in the richly textured Gospel passage (Mt 26: 14-27, 66) on the Passion of Christ. The text comprises Jesus’ scandalous betrayal by Judas Iscariot, as foretold at the memorable Passover meal; His moments of intense prayer on the Mount of Olives; His acts of extreme goodness even when His soul was sorrowful to death; His unlawful arrest and summary trial by the high priest; His shameful denial thrice over by Peter; His monstrous condemnation by Pilate; His distressful way to Calvary; His crucifixion, death, and burial.

St Paul in the Second Reading (Phil 2: 6-11) points to the humility of Jesus. He who was fully divine willingly became fully human; He who was “in the form of God did not count equality with God (…) but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” His total obedience led to His humiliation, but which in turn engendered His exaltation. God gave him a name “which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (…) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

None who have carefully listened to the three readings of today will remain unmoved. May this Holy Week cause us to reflect on the human condition and our divine commitment. Some of Our Lord’s sufferings are today inflicted upon His Living Body, the Church; some of them are perpetrated by us from within. God might sometimes allow our humiliation and suffering, but never our annihilation; our faith, hope and trust in God’s protection will ensure our final exaltation. May the story of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant, and His supreme love for humanity bring about our conversion and sanctification.