18 March 2016

AN OLIVE BRANCH ON PALM SUNDAY

So what improvements has the Ordinariate Missal (next week will be the first Holy Week in which it has been used) made to the Novus Ordo rites for Palm Sunday? Well, the 'palms' are to be properly blessed and then distributed; and the solemn Blessing begins with a Sursum corda. Both of these are important gestures back to the pre-Pius XII, pre-Bugnini Roman Rite. But, in my view, the most important return to Tradition is that the formulae mention the Olive as well as the Palm. Let me explain the importance of this.

Palm, of course, is the ancient Mediterranean symbol of Victory: and our Lord's triumphant ride into Jerusalem is what we might call the pre-emptive procession of the Great Conqueror. Perhaps we should not think of Holy Week in too 'linear' a way. It is well known that S John's Gospel, read in the Western Rite on Good Friday, emphasises the Victory of the Cross (Victory doesn't have to wait for Easter morning). On Maundy Thursday, the Lord gives his disciples to eat and drink the Body and Blood which, in terms of a simplistic 'linear' approach, have not yet been broken, shed, or sacrificed. Yet he gives them to his disciples as already sacrificed. And Triumph is already integral to Palm Sunday. All the themes and elements of Pascha surface in all the rites of Holy Week; it is a thematic unity, even if poor mortals, bogged down by 'linear' time, have to take the components one at a time. The shopping bag you brought back from the supermarket contains all your groceries simultaneously, even if you take them out one at a time.

But Olive has, if anything, an even profounder ideology associated with it than Palm. It suggests richness and fruitfulness enjoyed in peace. The Tridentine and Ordinariate rites allude to Noah, to whom the dove brought back an Olive twig, emblem of the end of God's wrath, emblem of the first covenantal peace between God and His people. How fitting to think of the Olive on this day when He who is the New Covenant sets aside the Temple Sacrifices by cleansing the Temple of the beasts awaiting immolation so that, antitype for type, He can set up the Eucharistic New Table of Sacrifice.

We meet Olive again at the Chrism Mass (our Chrism Mass is on Monday; please remember us), and I would like to revive an edifying speculation of Dom Gregory Dix. Ancient Jewish tradition held that the tree of life standing in the midst of the garden of Eden was an Olive, from which came the oil of mercy that cured both pain and death. That is why patristic sources insistently associate the Chrism of Confirmation with immortality and resurrection. And the Medieval Cornish Mystery Plays make much headway, typologically, with the pun between elaion [oil; pronounced in later Antiquity as eleon] and eleos [mercy]

In some early writings, the tree from which this oil flows is the tree of the Cross. It seems to me that here the images of Scripture and Tradition merge and mingle. The Cross, the New Tree in the New Garden, is the true Tree of Life, and the Anointing (Chrisma), which makes and marks us as Christians unto everlasting life, flows from that tree. And it is the tree of which Venantius Fortunatus in his Pange lingua teaches us that it is itself soaked, anointed, through and through, with the blood of the lamb ( ...quem sacer cruor perunxit fusus agni corpore).

A preChristian Jewish writing pictures Adam begging to be given of the oil that flows from the tree in garden. He is given for anwer: 'It shall not be thine now, but at the end of the times. Then shall all flesh be raised up and God will give them of the tree of life'. Praise be to God, who, here in the end-time, gives us in our Confirmation to be marked with the anointing unto everlasting life; and to eat the Food of Eternity.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

A memorable remark I remember from a priest years ago is that it was The Eucharist that went to The Cross not the other way round. This makes it so much easier to grasp how the Eucharistic offering continues the mystery of Our Lord's redeeming Sacrifice, not just by "re-enacting" (I hear this in sometimes traditionalist contexts), nor merely by "representing" (I hear this in modernist and, of course, Protestant contexts) what was done in the past, but by enacting and presenting in the here and now the literal reality of Christ's living and life-giving Self - his risen and glorious body, blood, soul and divinity, for ever marked with the wounds of sacrifice - to God the Father in perfect atonement and thanksgiving.