We gather in scattered groups; the place isn’t far from our small church. A nice blue sky. Children carry in their hands the traditional braids made of palm fronds. Every adult holds a bunch of olive branches.
I notice -again- a stark contrast with my old parish in Northern Italy: here in the South it seems they love large quantities of stuff. Each of the most resourceful parishioners gathered enough branches to supply the whole congregation back in the North.
Odd: people here use to wish a happy Palm Sunday. Never heard of that.
After mass we’ll exchange a olive branch with our friends and acquaintances: a nice, simple gesture, also economical. Give one, take one.
In practice you’re stuck prancing around with your unwieldy olive bush (wrapped at the base in a teeny tiny tinfoil piece), plus your guest-branch reserved for pleasantries; a specimen of Olea europaea rapidly substituted at every turn of kisscheek-shakehand.
My wife finds a low wall to sit on while the introduction lecture starts. She can’t stand for long, with our little womb-dweller inconveniencing her. Jesus Christ is acclaimed while triumphantly entering Jerusalem, a fleeting moment of glory before the fickle crowd decides to condemn him.
Back to the church with our now-blessed branches. I’m puzzled by the behavior of the majority: they start to move right away, like they really don’t care for an orderly procession. First comes the cross, then the priest with the altar boys, then everybody else. At least it should be like that. Never mind. We are in the minority that waits to form a procession. After the brief transfer, looking at the pews, I come to grips with their logic: the early birds took all the seats.
This is an outdoor mass, celebrated in the square by the church. Too little space inside. The building is barely sufficient for ordinary time masses.
We get to the back of the square, so far back in fact that initially I couldn’t hear the lectures. But we soon find a couple of folding chairs that have been left empty. It seems a few people decided they were content with the blessing of the palm and olive branches, so they left without having to endure the nuisance of an entire mass.
I never really understood this form of devotion, Catholics that boast their commitment to never miss a Palm Sunday or Xmas Midnight Mass while merrily skipping Easter and the rest.
Sounds like the green stuff sells well, tho. I surmise that in order to entice patrons the Catholic Church should offer more gadgets.
The atmosphere is warm and festive; you may also appreciate the efforts made by the organizers. And yet…
Maybe I’m getting old. I can’t stand an outdoor mass anymore. I’d rather have gone to another church for the day. Where’s the opportunity for meditation? How could you experience an encounter with a Mystery, show a special reverence for the Eucharist, while you’re surrounded by ordinary stuff, road signs and apartment windows?
One side of the small piazza (normally used as a parking lot) is delimited by a couple of four-stories apartment buildings. On the other side, beyond a flimsy tree line, lies a noisy and trafficked road.
The sweet voice singing the psalm overcomes the engines and klaxons.
High in the sky, the sun is mightily warm. It feels like summer already.
I close my eyes and suddenly get it.
This is a perfect metaphor. Today’s Church. A lonely voice, often drowned by external noise. Distractions.
I look around.
A small boy -right there- tilted back his head, now he’s balancing a plastic horse on his face&nose.
The chorus fights to overcome the noises blaring from the outside. But you feel part of a naked reality: there’s no inside nor outside.
A circular shape catches my attention. On this building to my side there’s a wire bundle inexplicably hanging right smack in the middle of a window; this antenna cable comes and goes up and sideways and down to another window following some twisted scheme.
On a couple of balconies people hanged some large purple satin sheets: it’s an old southern tradition, housewives putting out their finest blankets to honor the passage of the procession of a saint. A sort of wive’s version of the maritime tradition of dressing overall.
Another balcony: this family left their laundry on the clothesline for everyone to see.
The satin guys also put there a couple of CDs hanging by a string, wobbling in the wind, meant to scare birds. Wifey told me this morning she wants to buy a toy pinwheel for the purpose, to protect geraniums from avian intrusions. Better.
A seagull passes over my head right then.
Look at the church wall up there: the moist air coming from the sea is unforgiving, the plaster is damaged.
A few children found some shade, closer to the wall. A little girl uses the mass leaflet as a fan, out of boredom.
The traditionally dramatized reading of the Passio, the Gospel account of the Passion of Jesus, plunges us once more in the atmosphere of that long day.
The deep roar of a truck.
The bald head of the priest glistens in the sun.
A woman in front of me sports a flasy sweater, with two large openings exposing the naked shoulders, surrounded by pearls.
A dog barks incessantly, then stops.
A motorcycle screams.
The reading comes to the moment of Jesus’ death; I bend my knee. While I’m waiting there, with my right knee touching the asphalt, I realize that this death is so atrocious that it’s still beautiful.
When we get back home, we hear of two terrorist attacks in Egypt. More than 25 people massacred by Islamists while they were celebrating the Palm Sunday Mass.