Posted by: rbbadger | April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday and the missile

Today is Palm Sunday, so I decided rather than going to my normal parish Mass, I would head back to Myeong-dong Cathedral in Seoul (my other parish) for what I hoped would be the Solemn Pontifical Mass of Palm Sunday.  (A pontifical Mass is a Mass celebrated by a bishop.)  Anyhow, the Cardinal Archbishop was nowhere to be seen, seeing as he was celebrating a special memorial Mass for the late Cardinal Kim with many of the bishops of Korea at Catholic University.  So instead of the cardinal, the Rector of the Cathedral, Monsignor Raphael Pak Shin-eon celebrated the Solemn Mass of Palm Sunday. 

Monsignors are priests who have been honoured by the Pope for certain things.  Often, they are high ranking priests with a lot of years of service behind them.  And sometimes, they are high officials in a given diocese.  It doesn’t mean that a priest who is a monsignor is any more of a priest than any other priest would be.  It is basically that they’ve received a special papal title, generally upon the request of their bishop.  Monsignors get to dress in a cassock, a long black robe which in their case would be trimmed in purple, just like that of a bishop.  A regular priest or seminarian cassock has only black trim.  I’ve never seen Monsignor Pak wear the regalia to which he is entitled.  He dresses just like an ordinary priest.

Apart from the Latin Masses that the Cathedral has from time to time, the music is generally in Korean.  Waegwan Abbey has published a gradual, a book containing the Gregorian chants for the Mass, in Latin and Korean.  Today’s Mass featured the Gregorian antiphons of Palm Sunday, antiphons which are very familiar to me in Latin.  Since I didn’t have the Korean text handy, I could sing along quietly, but only in Latin.  The choir also sang motets by a favourite Renaissance composer of mine, Tomas Luis de Victoria, but this time with the texts translated into Korean.  Busan Catholic University has been engaged in the project of putting much of the Church’s heritage of sacred music into the Korean language.  It has been strange hearing works that I’m familiar with sung in a language different from that in which they were written, but the choir sings beautifully.

We do not have palm trees in Korea, as the climate is too cold and presumably too wet to support them.  So, instead of waving palm branches, we waved evergreen branches.  Evergreens are very, very common in Korea, so that is what is used.  In central and eastern Europe, palm branches are in short supply (or were historically).  Thus, pussywillow branches are used in place of the palms.  It is one of the reasons why the Russian Orthodox Church refers to Palm Sunday not as Palm Sunday, but as Flowery Sunday.  Pussywillows are generally the first things to bloom in the cold climates of central and eastern Europe.  So in keeping with Easter’s theme of rising to new life, the symbolism is highly appropriate.

While I was waiting for the Mass to start, North Korea launched their missile.  I didn’t hear anything about it until afterwards.  The thing that they were planning to send into orbit didn’t make it.  Japan is steaming and calling for immediate sanctions.  South Korea is none too pleased, either.  China hasn’t said anything other than urging everyone to remain calm.  The South Korean government has condemned the action and Japan is calling for swift and severe sanctions.  What happens with all this is anybody’s guess.


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