Growing up, my absolute favorite Mass was Palm Sunday. It even trumped Christmas or Easter (new toys and an abundance of candy waiting at home rather did those two in.) But Palm Sunday – not only did you get a palm branch to play with, but the Gospel was a play, which was infinitely more entertaining than merely listening to someone read.
My parish at the time embraced the theatricality of that particular Gospel reading. Rather than the congregation as a whole taking the part of the crowd, a few individuals were assigned the parts. After the strains of “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory!” the priest or deacon would invite the congregation to sit and watch the oncoming drama. Then, with great solemnity, the additional readers would join the priest at the center of the church (being built in the round, the congregation sat around the altar with a stadium-like effect) and the reading would begin. Whether or not this is an acceptable way for the Gospel reading, it did succeed in drawing the attention of an easily distracted child.
All the different years of seeing the performance blend together in memory, but I do recall the actors shouting “Crucify him!” Their yells alternating and overlapping so that a few voices sounded like an angry mob. Soon, it was over until the next year, Father would begin his homily, and I happily turned my attention to attempting to make the perfect Palm Cross.
Move ahead to teenage/young adulthood. My family moved to a different parish, which embraced the more traditional approach to the Palm Sunday Gospel. The congregation remained standing and we all participated in the crowd’s voice (usually…one year, in a burst of either enthusiasm or confusion, the congregation read more than the assigned part. There was a more involved explanation of who read what the following Lent.) Being overly self-absorbed, I merely mumbled along with the crowd – because clearly people were judging me over how I said the words. However, there were two lines I absolutely refused to say. My lips stayed shut both times the congregation said, “Crucify him.” All the other mocking words I would more or less join in on, but not those.
I wouldn’t be like that crowd, shouting for His death. I would not demand the Crucifixion.
Perhaps others do the same for different reasons, but for me, it all came down to self-righteous masquerading as piety. I was not like those people. I wouldn’t say, “Crucify him!” I was better than that.
Now that I’m older, I try to imagine what was going on with the individuals in the crowd. We know the Sanhedrin wanted him gone. But they weren’t the only ones in the crowd. What about the rest of the people? Perhaps some of them there had been paid to yell for Barabbas instead of Jesus. Perhaps they were desperate for the money to feed their families. Perhaps some of them felt betrayed, having thought Jesus was going to be the Messiah of their dreams and overthrow the Romans, and it now seeming he was just one more false hope. Perhaps they were people who, having been consumed with the joy and anticipation of Jesus’ triumphant entrance days before without knowing why, once again embraced the crowd mentality, this time of anger and hate. Does this excuse their actions? Of course not. But thinking of them as an evil crowd intent on deicide is nonsense.
I doubt a single one calling for blood believed they were condemning God to death.
Which, in a way, makes me worse than them. Because I know better. I may have refused to say the words, but each time I sin, whether it be major, such as purposefully skipping Mass, or seemingly minor, such as participating in gossip, I am essentially calling for the Crucifixion. My actions demand a response, and from Palm Sunday on through the Easter Sunday, I am reminded of God’s response.
So, I now say the words on Palm Sunday along with the rest of the Congregation. I still don’t like it. It is an exceedingly uncomfortable phrase. Obviously, noone likes it. But it’s important to say, year after year. Not just to keep myself from being a holier-than-thou hypocrite, but to help me remember as we enter into Holy Week. Remember that, while I may not say the exact words, it happened because of me. But more importantly, because of who He is.
What is man that thou shouldst remember him? What is Adam’s breed, that it should claim thy care?
– Psalm 8:5