The Bigard Seminary community, on Sunday, April 14, 2019, joined the Universal Church in the commemoration of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This celebration usually falls on the last (fifth) Sunday of Lent and marks the beginning of Holy Week. During the Holy Week here in Bigard Memorial Seminary, the gate is usually opened for lay faithful from outside the seminary who wish to be part of the celebration in the seminary.
The Eucharistic Celebration started at 7:00 hours in front of the Seminary Main Chapel – instead of in front of the Seminary Auditorium because of the heavy rainfall of that morning. The Vice Rector II, Very Rev Fr. Dr. Francis Igboanugo, presided over the Mass with the rest of the Formators concelebrating. After the Collect, a deacon read from the Gospel of Luke 19: 28 -40. In his short homily, Fr.Igboanugo made the following remarks about the celebration:what used to be called Passion Sunday, he said, in the early times of the Church has become known as Palm Sunday because of the symbolic custom of using palm fronds to reenact the events of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and consequently, his passion. The Gospel narrative succinctly captured this event. Jesus, it recounts, rode into Jerusalem with a donkey and was greeted with a lavish welcoming by a large crowd of townspeople who threw clothes and small branches before him as a sign of homage. The people’s attitude was a characteristic style of welcoming prominent figures of repute at the time of Jesus. Palm fronds is used to reenact this same gesture in our own time, because, in our culture palm fronds symbolizes peace and victory.
Jesus’ choice of donkey instead of a horse, he further explained, has an enormous implication. Firstly, donkey, at the time of Jesus, was widely held to be a sign of peace. An emissary who arrives riding on donkey is taken to have come bearing a message of peace. Horse, in the other hand, draws a sharp contrast as it symbolizes hostility and war. Secondly, Jesus, through that monumental stride, passed a message about his kingship and the kind of kingdom he desires and has come to establish. This, he would give expression when he would say at his trial: “My kingdom is not of this world”.
Finally, according to Fr. Igboanugo, the palm fronds which we have in our hands once blessed would become a sacramental, and so, can no longer be discarded carelessly as they would be retrieved, burnt and their ashes used in a celebration that would mark a new Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday of next year. With these words, he invited all to raise their palm branches for blessing. After the blessing, a few deacons went around the chapel to sprinkle Holy Wateron the raised palm branches of the faithful. With the introductory rite concluded, the liturgical ministers processed solemnly, each holding up his palm branches, from the front of the Seminary Main Chapel to the altar for the rest of the celebration.
After the first and second readings, there was a passion narrative according to the gospel of Luke 22: 14 – 23:56. The narrative was taken by three deacons: one playing the role of Jesus, the other, the narrator, and the last, playingthe role of the people. In the end, Fr Igboanugo, again, gave another homily. He anchored his homily on Christ’s suffering. Quoting from the Igbo Penny Catechism, he identified some aspects of the sufferings of Jesus Christ as indicated in the Catechism, namely, mental agony of Christ, sweating of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, the pain of Peter’s betrayals, the flagellations, the cruelty of his tormentors, the mocking, the loss of great quantity of blood. In spite of the above, he said, Jesus did not pray against his executioners, but prayed rather for their forgiveness. Against this backdrop, Fr Igboanugo examined the Christian understanding of suffering in the modern times. Some Christians’ attitudes towards suffering, he wondered, seem to suggest that many now desire a cross-less Christianity as against the ideal Christianity which is a religion of the Cross. Unfortunately for them, there is no genuine Christianity without the Cross. The Cross, he went further to explain, is a condition sine qua non for being a Christian, for Christ was emphatic when he said: if you want to be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me (Luke 9: 23). Refuting the popular claim of Prosperity-Gospel-Preachers who insist that Christ’s suffering has taken care of ours, he explained, that Christ suffered not that we may no longer suffer but that our sufferings may be like his. Jesus may have probably allowed Simeon of Cyrene to carry his cross to demonstrate that his cross alone is not enough for one’s salvation. Human co-operation is required. Suffering, in Christian understanding, becomes, therefore, a participation in the suffering of Christ; for anyone who suffers with Christ on a Good Friday wouldsurely rejoice with Him on Easter Sunday.
The rest of the liturgical events were solemnly marked. The musical instruments were used with moderation. Because of the quietude that should characterize the Holy Week, there were no traditional birthday songs rendered in honour of seminarians whose birth dates fell on that Sunday (as is customary in Bigard after the Post Communion Prayers). Upon dismal,the liturgical ministers proceeded back to the sacristy in quiet.