In reflecting on the beginning of Holy Week each year, it is spiritually enriching also to always remember how "the decisive sayings and events of Jesus’ life", commemorated in that special week, continue in our liturgical worship throughout the year. Pope Benedict XVI says of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before His passion, "The early Church was right to read this scene as an anticipation of what she does in her liturgy. The ‘benedictus’ entered the liturgy at a very early stage. For the infant Church Palm Sunday was not a thing of the past. Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey, so too the Church saw Him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine. The Church greets the Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the One Who is coming now, the One Who has entered into her midst. At the same time she greets Him as the One Who continues to come, the One Who leads us toward His coming. As pilgrims we go up to Him. As a Pilgrim He comes to us and takes us up with Him in His ‘ascent’ to His cross and resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the Communion that unites us with His Body."
Jose’ Granados writes, "The cry of hosanna can be seen to sum up the pilgrimage to the New Temple, that of the Body of Christ. As a petition for help or an exclamation of jubilation, hosanna attests that the Christian preaching of the word is always rooted in the body. The hosanna is part of what Gabriel Marcel called the exclamatory quality of existence. As incarnate beings, we are not just placed in front of the world, as if it were an external object at our disposal, but we are immersed in the world and we participate in it with wonder and passion. This is the hosanna that is heard by all who journey alongside Jesus from the glory of the palm branches to the suffering of Golgotha. This is said before each Eucharist in the ‘sanctus’, at the making present of the mystery of the Body, dead and risen. And, from time immemorial it was used to express hope for the second coming of Christ, ‘when our bodies will be transfigured into the image of His glorious Body’ (Philippians 3:21). Thus we find written in the Didache (one of the earliest non-scriptural Christian documents, which dates from about the year 60 A.D.), ‘Let grace come and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the Son of David. If anyone is holy, let him approach (to receive Holy Communion) . If anyone is not, let him repent. Maranatha! Amen!’." (Father Granados teaches patrology and philosophy at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.)
The Hebrew term "hosanna" was clearly important in the "happening" of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Its importance is indicated not only because it was retained in its original Hebrew form by the Evangelists, but also because, as Pope Benedict XVI observes, "the Christian liturgy had adopted this greeting, interpreting it in the light of the Church’s Easter faith." What does it mean? The term’s meaning seems to have undergone an evolution over several centuries.
It is related to Psalm 117, (118), where it was used originally in the Jewish temple liturgy as a sort of dialogue with two choirs. At that time it was addressed to God and meant something like "save us soon" or "save us now" or "come to our aid". The Jewish priests mantra-like would "repeat it in a monotone on the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles, while processing seven times around the temple altar of sacrifice." However, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles gradually morphed from a time and season of petition to God for His favors, especially for rain in time of drought, into a feast of jubilation, and so the word itself turned into a shout of triumph. Pope Benedict tells us that "By the time of Jesus, the word had also acquired messianic overtones. So then we find in it an expression of the complex emotions of the pilgrims accompanying Jesus and of His disciples: joyful praise of God at the moment of the processional entry, hope that the hour of the Messiah had arrived, and at the same time a prayer that the Davidic kingship and hence God’s kingship over Israel would be reestablished." Saint Augustine observed that "in Hebrew the cry of hosanna was an interjection, a shout coming from the very heart of man where the emotion of the one who speaks matters more than the meaning of the sounds."
Similarly, the other expression "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" originally was a blessing that the Jewish priests would pronounce over each pilgrim when he or she would arrive in the Jerusalem temple for some act of worship. But, later it too "acquired a messianic significance, a designation of the one promised by God, and so, from being an ancient pilgrim-blessing, it became the praise of Jesus, a greeting to Him Who comes in the name of the Lord, the One awaited and proclaimed by all the promises."
The so-called "messianic secret" is a significant element in all the Gospel narratives of the New Testament. Jesus confided gradually but clearly to His closest followers His identity as the Messiah and, ultimately, the divine Son of God, but demanded that they keep this confidential. It was only on the verge of His passion and death that He permitted others to so acclaim Him, in effect ending His messianic secret, and doing this obviously by His entry into Jerusalem. Our Redeemer knew that, on that occasion, there would be no further misunderstanding. He is acclaimed a King, but "His kingdom will be different from every other that has been or will be. He comes as a humble King to transform spears into pruning shears. His claim, however, is more daring than that of any previous king, for He proclaims Himself a King in a universal and eternal sense, Who reaches the very core of human identity" (John 18:33-37). He foresaw that "the necessary acclamation of hosanna" was going to be "united with the accusation of blasphemy by Caiphas (Matthew 26:63-66), and that the palm branches of glory were to be united to His cross." Only when those things come together "does Jesus’ royalty cease to be at risk of misunderstanding and He permits Himself to be acclaimed as the King of Israel by the crowd."
Saint John Chrysostom preached that it was only when Jesus "had given sufficient proof of His power and the cross was at the very doors, that He revealed Himself more clearly and did publicly whatever might foreshadow the things to come." He came as a King Who would soon be crowned with thorns and wrapped in the royal purple of His Blood, Whose throne would be a wooden cross and Whose spiritual kingdom would allow its citizens one day to rise from the dead and enjoy eternal and unbounded happiness before the face of God.
An Ordinary Viewpoint
Ashes to Glory - VI