The Sunday before Holy Week is Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday. It marks the arrival of Christ in Jerusalem just days before he would be crucified.
Palm Sunday is marked by special traditions and Mass readings. It prepares us even further for Holy Week, and ultimately, Christ’s death and resurrection.
Here are 5 things to know about Palm Sunday!
1) Meaning Behind The Palms
The palms symbolize peace and victory.
It was custom during Jesus’ time for people to pay homage by laying palm branches–or even clothes–in front of people who were owed a great amount of respect.
The Gospel of John tells of how Jesus was welcomed into the city mere days before his death:
“When the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, (even) the king of Israel’” (John 12: 12-13)
If you receive the blessed Palms at Mass on Sunday, do not throw them away or discard them! Instead, return unwanted palms to your parish to be used in making ashes for Ash Wednesday the following year.
According to Canon Law (1171), blessed items are to be treated with reverence. If there is a need to dispose of such items, they must be buried or burned.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy states:
“Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.
“Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.”
2) The Palm Sunday Procession
On Palm Sunday, the faithful receive palm branches at the beginning of Mass followed by a procession. Doing so invites us to reenact Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday has been commemorated in various ways throughout Church History. The Church standardized and simplified Palm Sunday traditions in 1955.
With this came the option of an organized procession that begins somewhere outside the church, a solemn procession that begins outside the church, a solemn procession starting inside the church, or no procession at all.
3) Entering the Scene During Palm Sunday Mass
“Joyful acclamations at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, followed by his humiliation. Festive cries followed by brutal torture. This twofold mystery accompanies our entrance into Holy Week each year, as reflected in the two characteristic moments of today’s celebration: the initial procession with palm branches and the solemn reading of the Passion.”
– Pope Francis (April 14, 2019)
On Palm Sunday, we dive deep into St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ last days (and moments) of life on earth.
We hear from the Gospel of Luke during the procession (Luke 19: 28-40), and later on during the Liturgy of the Word.
The Palm Sunday Gospel (Luke 22: 14-56) tells us about:
- The Last Supper
- Jesus’ agony in the garden
- Judas’ betrayal
- Jesus’ arrest and persecution
- Jesus’ Passion
And eventually, we read of His crucifixion and death.
4) Christ’s Entry to Jerusalem Was Foretold in the Old Testament
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
Behold: your king is coming to you,
a just savior is he,
Humble, and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
– Zechariah 9:9
5) Palm Sunday is a Time for Reflection Before Holy Week
St. Bernard of Clairvaux offered a homily about the significance of Palm Sunday and the account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem:
“How different the cries, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him,’ and then, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna, in the highest!’ How different the cries that now are calling him ‘King of Israel’ and then in a few days’ time will be saying, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ What a contrast between the green branches and the cross, between the flowers and the thorns! Before they were offering their own clothes for him to walk upon, and so soon afterwards they are stripping him of his, and casting lots upon them.”
Have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week!
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[See also: 18 Amazing Things Woven Out of Palm Sunday Palms]
[See also: The Inside Story on Where All of Those Palm Sunday Palms Come From]