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Processional cross and palms in Saint Matthew's cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Processional cross and palms in Saint Matthew’s cathedral, Washington, D.C.

This homily was given at a Solemn Mass at the church of Saint Mary, Mother of God, in Chinatown, Washington, D.C.

After our pilgrimage of forty days through the desert of Lent, our own exodus from bondage to the Promised Land, the Christian Church arrives today at the gates of the city of Jerusalem. This is the place where first we join our voices with the children of the Hebrews and acclaim, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, and yet also the way by which we enter into the mystery of the Lord’s saving acts: the institution of the Eucharist and the sacred priesthood, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary, and the great joy of his resurrection. In short, the coming days of the sacred triduum present us anew with the fullness of life in Christ, a life which is found in the communion of his holy Church.

It is fitting that Jerusalem is the location for these profound events. It is here that the first temple stood as a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel – a temple destroyed and yet rebuilt in Christ, who is the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice. It is here that the psalmist and prophets tell us that the Messiah will come to begin his work of restoring God’s people to their rightful place. And it is to here that Moses led the people of Israel to freedom from slavery in Egypt, as God vanquished and overcame their oppressors.

For the Christian, however, Jerusalem is more than a geographical location or place. The earthly city prefigures the heavenly city – the new Jerusalem – of which, by virtue of our baptism, we are destined to be heirs. Today we do not enter into a simple re-enactment of events within the constraints of time, but also the eternal mystery of the love of God and his saving works. We stand at the threshold of this great and holy week as we stand at the threshold of Jerusalem itself, to behold the unfolding of the events of the Lord’s passion, and death, and resurrection, as we do at every offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

The significance of this is emphasised further still by the fact that Jerusalem is not just a location, nor just a synonym for heaven, but a civilisation which is founded even now in our midst. We join with shouts of ‘Hosanna’ today because we are citizens now of the Jerusalem to come. Jerusalem is the place in which God brings about his saving acts, and it those very same works which are made present in the life of the Church. As members incorporate of the mystical body of Christ through baptism, we are already participants in the life of the new Jerusalem, the Church, and so rightly come to enter the worship of that place in the banquet of sacrificial love which is the relationship of the most blessed Trinity, glimpsed by us in our Eucharistic offering.

In today’s elaborate ceremonies and rites we see in sign and gesture the very essence of the life of the Church and the life of every Christian soul. Let us pray that this, our act of thanksgiving, may be found worthy of the mystery it celebrates, and that we – by participation in this and every authentic offering of divine worship – may be drawn more deeply into the civilisation of that heavenly city, the fullness of the Church’s life, and so come one day to that awesome place – the new Jerusalem – where sorrow and sighing will flee away and we shall be filled with joy and gladness (cf. Is. 35: 10).