Homily given at Palm Sunday Mass on 2nd April 2023, on entry to Westminster Cathedral and before the opening prayer.
Holy Week begins. Our first act is this procession of the palms, remembering and recreating the entry of our Blessed Lord into the holy city of Jerusalem. The moment has been presented to us in the passage we have just heard from the Gospel of St Matthew.
The palms we carry and hold remind us of our link to that moment. We too are participants in the entry of the Lord, in his willing acceptance of what lies ahead, given out of the bond of total love that binds Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the unity of God. His journey is for us. His sacrifice is for our freedom.
These palms remind us that our journey through life is best understood as a pilgrimage, in which we are always accompanied by our Saviour, in which we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit and which is taking us to our Heavenly Father. We hold this palm as an act of faith, that our life is not pointless or futile but rich in meaning and promise. We take it home and keep it, as a reminder of our faith. We may fashion it into a cross so that it points us to the supreme act of our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
But we also carry the palm in another way, in another form. The ashes we received on Ash Wednesday were the ashes of burned palms. This is worth remembering today. Palm ash reminds us that on this journey we are sinners, in need of mercy and forgiveness. Receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday places us before the Lord as one who is in need, one who is making heavy weather of the pilgrimage. In the ashes we received, and in the palm which we hold, we are embracing our frailty and seeking mercy.
And palms are used in another way too. The palm branch is used as a symbol of martyrdom. Statues of martyrs, such as those of St John Fisher and St Thomas More, include a palm branch. And here we are, holding such a branch ourselves. As we grasp our palm, let’s remember that the word ‘martyr’ actually means ‘witness’. The martyr saints give the supreme witness, dying for their faith. The witness we give is in our everyday actions: our kindness and compassion; our readiness to speak kindly words of faith to others; our generosity in praying for others; our faithfulness and forgiveness, even to those who let us down. Our palm is a call to be a witness, and to remember the crown of glory that, we pray, awaits us in heaven.
Palm Sunday. Please treasure the palm you have received this morning. Let it be a sign of your pilgrimage of life, a reminder of your need for forgiveness and mercy and a prompt to ensure that in all you do and say you give a noble witness to our Blessed Lord, to his teachings and to his loving compassion for everyone.
And now I add that after the reading of the Passion, our Gospel at Mass this morning, there will not be another homily, but some moments of silence for our own contemplation and prayer.
Let us stand and pray.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster