Christianity cannot be without irony, without what G.K. Chesterton calls “Christian mirth,” wherein we are presented with mercy and justice being quite identified as one on the Cross. The Holy Spirit provides joy in living this Truth.
While I couldn’t record this homily – being rather busy at the time (Don’t tell anyone!) – it is easy to summarize:
- Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna in excelsis! !הוֹשַׁע־נָא בַּמְּרוֹמִים
- Hosanna (Hebrew!) is an imperative command put into action because of a situation (the “na” suffix).
- The situation in context is being located “in the highest” place of all: “Because you are in the highest place, therefore…”
- It is the same literal Hebrew root as the Holy Name of Jesus.
- Jesus means “Savior”
- The command being given is “Save us!”
- Literally, in speaking to Jesus: “Because you [Jesus, Savior] are in the highest place, save us!” It’s a request to be saved, but it is almost a challenge: “Look here, you Savior, you are in the highest place, and therefore you can do this, you can save us, so, therefore, SAVE US!”
- The crowd is proclaiming their request joyfully, as they have all hope that their prayer will be heard.
Let’s see some logistics about that highest place:
- Jesus is riding into Jerusalem, His city, high atop the foul of donkey. He is humble in His majesty, the perfect image of the Suffering Servant, who takest away the sins of the world by standing in our place, Innocent for the guilty, fulfilling the prophesy in Zechariah:
- “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
- Jesus says about His being lifted up from the earth, on the Cross, where salvation “in the highest” will be wrought:
- “‘When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:32-33)
Those shouting “Hosanna in the highest!” weren’t paying much attention to the humility of the One in the Highest.
Let’s take a look at logistics in time:
Holy Mother Church, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, places these words – “Hosanna in the highest!” – immediately before the Consecrations, then having the priest lift up, in the highest, the Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world. Our response to those elevations of our Eucharistic King humbly held on high by any donkey-priest, is to repeat: “Therefore, you, Jesus, Savior, who are in the highest, and can therefore save us, do so! Save us, Savior!”
The homily went a bit more smoothly than all that, but you get the idea.
This is like unto a homily I gave in Rome decades ago in front of dozens of priests including a particular priest who is quite singularly responsible for the downfall of the seminaries in Ireland, the destruction of the faith in Ireland, he who is surely the “most spiritual” among pretty much all mostly English speaking Bishops Conferences. Afterward, he literally ran out of the sacristy after me, grabbing me by the shoulder, commanding me (as if he had such authority) to never, not ever say such things ever again, never again, ever. “That was terrible!” he exclaimed, “Terrible!” He was sweating, filled with adrenaline, apoplectic, eyes wildly darting about. His fear of truth was palpable. The truth about Jesus, Irony Incarnate, just about kills people, I guess…
So, just to impress the point for the sake of anyone apoplectic in reading this – and having already mentioned G.K. Chesterton – let’s bring to the fore the great Hilaire Belloc once again. I believe that all priests and bishops including the Bishop of Rome should memorize this passage:
“To the young, the pure, and the ingenuous, irony must always appear to have a quality of something evil, and so it has, for […] it is a sword to wound. It is so directly the product or reflex of evil that, though it can never be used – nay, can hardly exist – save in the chastisement of evil, yet irony always carries with it some reflections of the bad spirit against which it was directed. […] It suggests most powerfully the evil against which it is directed, and those innocent of evil shun so terrible an instrument. […] The mere truth is vivid with ironical power […] when the mere utterance of a plain truth labouriously concealed by hypocrisy, denied by contemporary falsehood, and forgotten in the moral lethargy of the populace, takes upon itself an ironical quality more powerful than any elaboration of special ironies could have taken in the past. […] No man possessed of irony and using it has lived happily; nor has any man possessing it and using it died without having done great good to his fellows and secured a singular advantage to his own soul.” [Hilaire Belloc, “On Irony” (pages 124-127; Penguin books 1325. Selected Essays (2/6), edited by J.B. Morton; Harmondsworth – Baltimore – Mitcham 1958).]
By the way, that priest who “commanded” me never to tell people what “Hosanna!” means, threatened me that if I did try to publish such things in future he would, instead, use his connections, his power, not to allow anything I write to be published by any Catholic or Christian publisher, he being on the boards of most publishing houses. Yep. “And I am quite powerful in the publishing world,” he insisted again.
I guess he had a rather too grandiose opinion of himself or at least had the idea that I somehow feared him. Um… no.
I will continue to call out to the Lord to save me when He is lifted up from the earth on the cross as He draws me to Himself to also be on the cross with Him. I am the most wretched sinner. I need Salvation, Jesus! In my desperation I must call out: Jesus, Savior, you who are in the highest, because you in the highest, save us, save me!