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Why Is This Week Called Holy?
This Sunday is called Palm Sunday because it observes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem that was marked by the crowds who were in Jerusalem for Passover waving palm branches and proclaiming him as the messianic king. Traditionally, worshippers enact the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem by the waving of palm branches and singing songs of celebration as they process into the church.
This Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday. The English word passion comes from a Latin word that means "to suffer," the same word from which we derive the English word patient. The Gospel reading on this day is always the account of the Lord’s Passion from one of the synoptic Gospels – this year from Matthew. We hear related to us the story of Christ’s celebration of the Passover with the disciples, his betrayal and capture, trial and sentencing, execution and burial.
Passion /Palm Sunday is the first day of what has been known traditionally as ‘Holy Week’. The days of this week in the liturgical calendar are designated as Monday of Holy Week, Tuesday of Holy week, etc. 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 travel diary of Egeria, a pilgrim to the Holy Lands in around the year 388, contains a detailed account of the "Great Week”, the week leading up to Easter. The commemoration of Christ's triumphal entry into the city took place on the Sunday afternoon. Great crowds assembled on the Mount of Olives and after suitable hymns, and antiphons, and readings, they returned in procession to Jerusalem, escorting the bishop, and bearing palms and branches of olives before him. Special services in addition to the usual daily Office are also mentioned on each of the following days.
On the Thursday the Liturgy was celebrated in the late afternoon, and all received communion, after which the people went to the Mount of Olives to commemorate with appropriate readings and hymns the agony of Christ in the garden and his arrest, only returning to the city as day began to dawn on the Friday.
On the Friday again there were many services, the veneration of the great relic of the True Cross at midday being the highlight; while for three hours after midday another crowded service was held in commemoration of the Passion of Christ at which, according to Egeria, the sobs and lamentations of the people exceeded all description.
Holy Week observances help us to place the hope of the Resurrection, the promise of newness and life, against the background of death and endings. It is only in walking through the shadows and darkness of Holy Week and Good Friday, only in realising the horror and magnitude of sin and its consequences in the world incarnated in the dying Jesus on the cross, only in contemplating the ending and despair that the disciples felt on Holy Saturday, that we can truly understand the light and hope of Sunday morning!