Palm Sunday: So Begin the Ceremonies of Holy Week

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, commemorating the triumphant entry of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, six days before His Passion.

Newsroom (10/04/2022 09:00, Gaudium Press) The final week of Lent, which concludes the forty days that precede the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is called Holy Week. During this period, the Church celebrates the principal episodes of the mystery of the Passion through solemn and meaningful ceremonies.

What is Palm Sunday?

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, commemorating the triumphant entry of Our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, six days before His Passion.

It is called “of Palm” because of the procession that takes place on this day, in which the faithful carry an olive or palm branch in their hands.

Sacred Scripture tells us that the people went out to meet Our Lord, covering the ground with garments where He would pass; tree branches were cut, which were carried as a sign of joy, to the song of: “Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mt 21:1-11).

The Palm Sunday ceremony

To increase the significance of this ceremony, before Mass, the priest, dressed in red vestments or in a cloak, blesses the branches which are distributed to the faithful present immediately afterwards.

After the blessing and distribution of the branches, a deacon proclaims the Gospel passage that recounts the event as it occurred in Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-10; Jn 12:12-16; Lk 19:28-40). And then, after the reading, the celebrant or deacon says: “Brothers and sisters, in imitation of the people who acclaimed Jesus, let us begin our procession with joy“.

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(Read also: What is the meaning of Palm Sunday? Origin and symbolism)

The faithful wielding their branches proceed in procession to the church where Mass will be celebrated. They carry the branches as a sign of the royal triumph which, succumbing on the Cross, Christ achieved. Based on the words of St. Paul: If we suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:17).

Why did Our Lord triumphantly enter Jerusalem before His Passion?

Among the reasons why Our Lord wished to enter triumphantly into Jerusalem before His Passion, as was foretold, are those of encouraging His disciples, thus giving them a clear proof that He was going to suffer of His own accord; and also to teach us that by His death He would triumph over the devil, the world, and the flesh, and that He would open the gates of Heaven for us.

The blessed branch: a powerful sacramental

The blessed branch is a sacramental for the faithful. In the Greek and Latin liturgies, olive branches had a symbolic character as signs of hope, victory, life.

(Also read: Palm Sunday)

The faithful take home these branches that were solemnly carried during the procession and which, beforehand, received the blessing of the Church. Trusting in the protection of God, these branches are attributed a healing and protective efficacy on occasions of danger, storms, lightning, fire and other misfortunes.

The Palm Procession returns to the Church

Arriving back at the church, the clergy and people find the door closed. Inside the church, one part of the choir, representing the angelic choirs, intones the “Gloria Laus” (Glory, praise and honour, to Christ, redeemer King). The other part of the choir, still outside the sanctuary, requests through their hymns the free entrance to Christ Who has triumphed through the Cross.

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At the end of the hymn, a minister knocks three times on the door, which does not open at his request. Then, the crucifer – the one carrying the processional cross – knocks on the door with the foot of this cross. The door is then opened and the procession enters the church.

Symbolism of the Palm Sunday Ceremony

The symbolism of this ceremony is easy to interpret. The Church closed at first, represents Heaven, which because of the sin of Adam and Eve, is closed and into which no one enters. But now the doors open again, by virtue of Our Lord’s death on the Cross. And the souls redeemed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, the conqueror, may enter the Church, Heaven.

Origin of the Palm Procession

The history of the procession, according to some authors, dates back to as early as the fourth century, while the blessing of the branches dates back to the seventh or eighth century.

The custom of the Palm Procession goes back to the fifth century. The Christians gathered on the Mount of Olives and, after the solemn liturgy of the Word, went in procession to the city of Jerusalem, carrying olive branches, in remembrance of Jesus’ solemn entry into the holy city. From the 7th century onwards, we find the same custom in the Churches of the East and West.

The Palm Procession in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, this procession was carried out in a most pious and solemn manner: Christ was symbolically represented by a cross or by a book of the Gospel which was carried on an ornate litter.

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(Read also: Commentaries on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion)

Also included at that time was the figure of a wooden ass which moved on wheels and on which a carved image of Our Lord was placed. The custom of blessing the branches in a church or chapel outside the city walls was also established in that era.

End of the Palm Sunday ceremony

After the procession, the celebrant removes his cloak if he is wearing one, and puts on the purple chasuble; in spite of these scenes of enthusiasm and glory in the procession shortly after these acclamations of the Jews of Jerusalem, the opprobrium, mockery and terrible sorrows of the Passion will begin.

The Palm Mass

Thus the solemn Mass begins. The Gospel of the Passion according to St. Matthew, St. Mark or St. Luke, depending on the cycle of readings, is sung by three deacons or three priests. One of them plays the part of the evangelist, giving an account of the drama; another sings the words of Our Lord, and the third speaks the words of the Jews, Pilate and the Apostles.

When we come to the part where it says: “emisit spiritum” (He gave up His spirit), the people kneel and prostrate themselves. In some countries, the people kiss the ground. At the end of the reading, we say: “Word of salvation”. After the homily, the Mass proceeds as per usual.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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