As Catholics entered Holy Week March 28, during Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, Archbishop José H. Gomez reflected on how again the celebration is happening in the midst of a pandemic.

"The lesson for us again in this Holy Week is to have trust in God's mercy, in his providence. God's plans for us are all for love, for life, for our happiness and joy," said Archbishop Gomez.

"Holy Week makes us 'witnesses' of our Lord's love for us. Let us ask for the grace this week, to testify to the love we have witnessed," he said. "Let us open our hearts to one another, as he has opened his heart for us."

He said the "grip of the deadly" COVID-19 pandemic "is loosening," but "still, we labor under the cloud of infection and uncertainty."

Following COVID-19 precautions, some Catholics gathered at the Cathedral for the Mass, with the archbishop greeting them with palms as they came in. Many followed the Mass via livestream.

"My brothers and sisters, whatever crosses we carry in our lives, whatever hardships we face, we need to know that Jesus is walking with us," the archbishop added. "Whatever hardships we face, we need to know that Jesus is walking with us. ... We are carrying his cross with him, like Simon, the Cyrenian."

Carrying the cross with Christ "does not take away the pain or the fear" or "spare us the disappointments and losses in our lives," he said, "but it tells us that our pain is not the last word of the story. God will wipe away every tear. If we carry our cross with him, he will lead us to the resurrection."

Archbishop Gomez, who is president of the U.S. bishops' conference, urged Catholics that as they began Holy Week to "ask for the grace to enter into these mysteries in a deep and personal way."

"Let us truly accompany Jesus and Mary our Blessed Mother on this final journey," he said. "As we walk this path with Jesus and Mary, we remember that everything that happens in these final moments of our Lord’s earthly life -- happens according to God’s plan of salvation."

As he noted, the day's Gospel ended "with our Lord suffering and dying on the cross, feeling abandoned and alone. Everything appears to be lost -- but it's not!"

Believers know the "end of the story," Archbishop Gomez said. "God wins in the end!"

As the faithful accompany Jesus and Mary throughout Holy Week, "they are showing us the meaning of love," he said, "Love means self-surrender. Love means handing over your whole self, everything you expect out of life, everything you want and have, all your actions and thoughts -- putting it all in God's hands, to do his will."

Across the country in Portland, Maine, at the base of the sanctuary in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Palm Sunday, Bishop Robert P. Deeley began Holy Week with the blessing of the palms.

A large assembly gathered in person and via livestream to participate in the celebration. The congregation at the cathedral followed now-standard safety precautions of masking and social distancing.

"The celebration of Palm Sunday has rightly been called 'the great doorway' leading into Holy Week, in which we commemorate Our Lord's journey to Jerusalem," Bishop Deeley said in his homily. "That journey to Jerusalem, however, is not just a memorial of the triumphant entry into the city. It is also a memorial of Jesus' great moment of love."

While the tone at the beginning of Palm Sunday Mass is one of joy, it soon turns more somber, as the focus shifts to the events of Jesus' life that would occur just days later.

"That is, of course, the cross of Christ and the passion and death of the Lord," the bishop said. "For us, as Christians, this is the ultimate event of Jesus' life. The most powerful image of the Gospel we just heard proclaimed is Jesus standing alone, deserted by his followers, even Peter.

"In his standing alone, however, the Jesus we meet is not weak or cowed by his suffering. This is something he has set out to do, and it is our belief that his determination is on our behalf. Jesus died for our sins. ... Jesus shows us true love."

The "true greatness of human life," he continued, "rests not in power or riches but in the love of Jesus, a love which shares, which strives to be close to humanity, particularly those who suffer, and which gives itself to service of the other.

"Extravagant love, that is what we witness, receive, and reflect on during the week. Extravagant love, that is what we are called to live."

The week begins with triumph: Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, the bishop pointed out.

As Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, his followers spread palm branches at his feet and called him "Hosanna" or "Savior." Palm branches were considered symbols of victory and triumph at the time.

The week then descends into the suffering of death, with Christ's crucifixion, and rises with joy in the Resurrection of Easter, said Bishop Deeley, who prayed that all would "enjoy renewal and reflection on (Jesus') extravagant love."