The final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphal entrance of Christ into Jerusalem* (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path, before His arrest on Holy Thursday and His Crucifixion on Good Friday.
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt (John 12:13-15)!”
The Sunday before Easter Sunday is celebrated as Palm Sunday and the worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, in which the faithful in song and gesture imitate the Hebrew children who went to meet the Lord singing “Hosanna.
In the Bible, the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John describe the events.
There is a special entrance at the beginning of each Mass, either simple or solemn. This includes a blessing of the palms and the gospel reading of the entrance into Jerusalem (Mathew: 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-10; John 12:12-16; Luke 19:28-40).
Palm branches are a widely recognized 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. A king would have ridden a horse when he was bent on war and ridden a donkey to symbolize his arrival in peace. Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem would have thus symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.
The faithful have traditionally decorated their houses with the palms from Palm Sunday, and, in many countries, a custom developed of weaving the palms into crosses that were placed on home altars or other places of prayer. Because the palms are blessed, they are appropriately gathered at the church and incinerated to create the ashes that will be used in the following year’s Ash Wednesday observance.
Palm Sunday traditionally has two focal points. One is the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem just days before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. He was greeted with acclaim by residents, who placed branches of palm trees in his path, a sign of respect for an arriving messiah. Within a week, the people of Jerusalem were making a different cry: “Crucify him!”
The other focal point is the reading of the Passion Gospel, the entire story of Jesus’ final hours, beginning with his torment in the Garden of Gethsemane and concluding with his death on the cross and the placing of his body in a tomb. Thus the day usually is known as the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday reminds us that He is King of our lives and that we need to honor Him as such. Those early disciples sang, hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord (St. Matthew 21:9).
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”