Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. The Palm Sunday liturgy comprises two main parts: the Procession with Palms, and the Eucharist.
First the palms are blessed and distributed. Then follows the reading of the Palm Sunday Gospel which describes Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-15). After this comes the procession in which the whole congregation is invited to join. During the procession, that great hymn of praise to Christ the King is usually sung: All glory, laud and honour. The procession is a public and joyful expression of our loyalty and devotion to Christ our King. (1)
Then in the Eucharist we turn our thoughts to Our Lord’s suffering and death. The Eucharist includes the solemn reading of the Passion which may involve several people taking different parts, such as narrator, Christ and Pilate. The congregation may take the part of the crowd. At the end of the Eucharist we take our palm crosses home, as a reminder that we have this day pledged our loyalty to Christ. (2)
The Procession of Palms is a very ancient Christian celebration. In the fourth century a pilgrim called Etheria visited the Holy Land and wrote an account of how the Church in Jerusalem celebrated Palm Sunday. She tells us that in the afternoon all the people went up to the Mount of Olives. “...the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him with hymns and antiphons, answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighbourhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot in this manner…” (3)
The liturgical colour for Palm Sunday is red. In some churches, red vestments are used for the blessing and procession of palms and violet vestments for the Eucharist.
1. Diekmann, G.L. (1957) The Masses of Holy Week and the Easter Vigil, London: Longmans, Green and Co.
2. Diekmann, G.L. (1957) The Masses of Holy Week and the Easter Vigil, London: Longmans, Green and Co.
3. Etheria (4th century) ed. and trans. McClure, M.L. and Feltoe, C. L. (1919) The pilgrimage of Etheria, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Available from:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/mcclure/etheria/files/etheria.html (Accessed 14 March 2012) (Internet).
A short talk for Palm Sunday, The King of Love, is now available in this section of the Holy Faith website.