Celebrating Palm Sunday

PALMS, PROCESSION, PASSION AND PRAYER

Today is Passion (Palm) Sunday. The Roman Missal explains that on this day the Church celebrates Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to accomplish his paschal mystery. Accordingly, the memorial of this event is included in every Mass, with the procession or the solemn entrance before the principal Mass and others that are usually well attended.

The first and second forms of the Commemoration of Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem involve the people gathering before Mass in a separate area or at the front door of the church. After an introduction and prayer, the priest sprinkles the people’s palm branches with holy water, the account of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem from the gospel for that year is proclaimed and all process into the church while appropriate hymns are sung.

A procession with palms on the Sunday before Easter has a long history. It is mentioned by Egeria in her account of Holy Week in Jerusalem in the 4th century. In the Middle Ages the procession usually moved from one church to another and included a representation of Christ seated on a wooden donkey. The well known “All glory, laud and honour” was written especially for the Palm Sunday procession by Bishop Theodulph of Orleans around the year 800.

The procession of palms leads people to the proclamation of the Passion of the Lord; it takes them from joyful acclamation to sober reflection. The procession is not just a procession for Christ but one with Christ. When the people join in the procession on Passion (Palm) Sunday, we see the Church on the move, acting as a single unit, acclaiming Christ with shouts of ‘Hosanna’.

The procession with palms is a powerful symbol of the pilgrim Church, a Church on its way. We are moving towards the heavenly Jerusalem, yet we can only make the journey because it has already been made by Christ in his Passion. And Christ has done even more than making this journey for us; he now offers to make it with us.

Almighty, ever-living God, you have given the human race Jesus Christ our Saviour as a model of humility. He fulfilled your will by becoming man and giving his life on the cross. Help us to bear witness to you by following his example of suffering and make us worthy to share in his resurrection. (Opening Prayer, Passion Sunday)

Today is the first day of what has been known traditionally as ‘Holy Week’. As this title suggests, we are called to enter this time with reverence and celebrate its rites with care and devotion. All normal parish activity should be put on hold so that the community can focus on these special days. The Gospel reading for today highlights what will be celebrated in the week that lies ahead – our passage with the Lord from death to resurrection.
Though he was sinless, he suffered willingly for sinners. Though innocent, he accepted death to save the guilty. By his dying he has destroyed our sins. By his rising he has raised us up to holiness of life. (Preface, Passion Sunday)

Elizabeth Harrington