VATICAN CITY — On Palm Sunday, Pope Francis offered Mass in a nearly empty St. Peter’s Basilica and urged Catholics quarantined at home to remember "what really matters" in life: loving God and serving others.
“The tragedy we are experiencing summons us to take seriously the things that are serious, and not to be caught up in those that matter less; to rediscover that life is of no use if not used to serve others. For life is measured by love,” Pope Francis said April 5 in his Palm Sunday homily.
Holy Week liturgies at the Vatican are taking without the presence of the public this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the Palm Sunday broadcast, the pope said that Catholics can look to the suffering Christ as an example of a life lived completely in the service of others.
“In these holy days, in our homes, let us stand before the Crucified One -- look, look at the crucifix, the fullest measure of God’s love for us, and before the God who serves us to the point of giving his life, and let us ask for the grace to live in order to serve,” he said.
Pope Francis said that the coronavirus pandemic has allowed people to see that “the real heroes” are not the “famous, rich and successful people,” but are those who “are giving themselves in order to serve others.”
“May we reach out to those who are suffering and those most in need. May we not be concerned about what we lack, but what good we can do for others,” he said.
Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica with the miraculous crucifix of San Marcello and the Byzantine icon of Mary, Salus Populi Romani, near the altar. Both icons were present in St. Peter’s Square during the pope’s extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27.
“Jesus ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’ ... His love for us led him to sacrifice himself and to take upon himself our sins. This astonishes us: God saved us by taking upon himself all the punishment of our sins. Without complaining, but with the humility, patience and obedience of a servant, and purely out of love,” he said.
The pope asked: “What can we do in comparison with God, who served us even to the point of being betrayed and abandoned?”
“We can refuse to betray him for whom we were created, and not abandon what really matters in our lives. We were put in this world to love him and our neighbours. Everything else passes away, only this remains,” he said.
Pope Francis said that just as God the Father sustained Jesus in the suffering in his Passion, the Lord also supports each person whose love and service of others is a via crucis in itself.
“Today, in the tragedy of a pandemic, in the face of the many false securities that have now crumbled, in the face of so many hopes betrayed, in the sense of abandonment that weighs upon our hearts, Jesus says to each one of us: ‘Courage, open your heart to my love. You will feel the consolation of God who sustains you,’” Pope Francis said.
The pope led the Angelus prayer following the Palm Sunday Mass. He urged Catholics to learn from the Blessed Virgin Mary, who gazed upon her crucified son with inner silence and “the gaze of the heart.”
“Beloved, let us set out with faith this Holy Week, in which Jesus suffers, dies and rises again. People and families who cannot participate in liturgical celebrations are invited to gather in prayer at home, also helped by technological means,” he said.
“Let us cling spiritually to the sick, to their families and to those who treat them with self-sacrifice; let us pray for the dead, in the light of paschal faith,” Pope Francis said.