The Palm Cross
Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, this year we celebrate on 14th April 2019.
This is the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ into Jerusalem, where, later he would be arrested and crucified.
Many churches commemorate the day by processions, with the congregation carrying symbolic palm leaves (folded in the form of a cross) or branches of palm trees.
In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a young donkey, and to the lavish praise of the townspeople who threw clothes, or possibly palms or small branches, in front of him as a sign of homage. This was a customary practice for people of great respect.
Palm branches are widely recognised symbol of peace and victory, hence their preferred use on Palm Sunday.
The use of a donkey instead of a horse is highly symbolic, it represents the humble arrival of someone in peace, as opposed to arriving on a steed in war.
During Palm Sunday services, palms are distributed to parishioners who carry them in a ritual procession into church. The palms are blessed, and many people fashion them into small crosses or other items of personal devotion. These may be returned to the church or kept for the year. Because the palms have been blessed, they may not be discarded, and in many cases, they are collected by the church and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used for the start of the following years lantern observances
The celebration of Palm Sunday originated in the Jerusalem Church, around the late fourth century. The ceremony consisted of prayers, hymns, and sermons recited by the clergy while the people walked to various holy sites throughout the city. At the final site, the place where Jesus ascended into heaven, the clergy read from the gospels concerning the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the early evening they returned to the city reciting: ‘Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.’ The children carried palm and olive branches as the people returned through the city back to the church, where they would hold evening services.
By the fifth century, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. Changes made in the sixth and seventh centuries resulted in two new Palm Sunday traditions – the ritual blessing of the palms, and a morning procession instead of an evening one. Adopted by the Western Church in the eighth century, the celebration received the name ‘Dominica in Palmis,’ or ‘Palm Sunday’.
Today, Palm Sunday traditions in Roman Catholic churches are much the same as they have been since the tenth century. The ceremony begins with the blessing of the palms. The procession follows, then Mass is celebrated, and the Passion and the Benediction are sung. Afterwards, many people take the palms home and place them in houses, barns, and fields. The colours used in this service for the priests or vicars’ robes and the pulpit and alter frontals are red and white, symbolising the redemption in blood that Jesus paid for the world.
In the simplest of terms, Palm Sunday is an occasion for reflecting on the final week of Jesus’ life. It is a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the agony of his passion and the joy of his Resurrection.