Newsletter for Sunday 24 March 2024

22 Mar

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, and our procession today with blessed palms recalls Our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the crowds cried out “Hosanna” and spread their garments and palm branches in His way.

The palm is a sacramental of the Church, and carrying them in procession goes back to the Old Testament. God commanded the Israelites on the feast of Tabernacles to take the branches of the palm tree and rejoice with them before the Lord (Leviticus 23:40). We also read of palms in the second book of Maccabees where they were used in the victory procession over Israel’s enemies (13:51), and in the book of the Apocalypse the martyrs are represented carrying palms (7:9).

The custom of carrying palms in procession on Palm Sunday originated in the East probably around the eighth century, and most likely the idea of a procession preceded that of the blessing. It was later on that the principle of whatever is used in God’s service should first of all be sanctified by the blessing of the Church. However, the name “Palm Sunday” is mentioned at least as far back as the fifth century. And in the ‘Sacramentary’ of Pope St Gregory the Great at the end of the sixth century, mention is made of the faithful being present at Mass with leaves and palm branches in their hands. And in our own country, St Bede mentions their use in the seventh century.

The palms are blessed before the Solemn Mass on Palm Sunday. The priest reads the Gospel account of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and we pray that we may in the end go forth to meet Christ, bearing the palm of victory, and that laden with good works, we may enter with Him into the eternal Jerusalem. The procession then follows outside the church.

The palm, as mentioned above, is a symbol of victory. It should be a continual reminder of the victory won by Our Lord by humbling Himself and dying on the Cross for our salvation, and also that all true victories in our own spiritual lives are won by triumphing over ourselves and our wayward passions and sinful inclinations. We should treat the palm we receive with respect and put it in a prominent place at home. People often place it with a crucifix or a holy picture. I think it is well known that the remaining palms are later on burned and then used as ashes on Ash Wednesday the following year. This brings out the connection between suffering and victory.

Later in the week we will be with Our Lord as He institutes the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Priesthood on Maundy Thursday. This will be followed by the Solemn Procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the Altar of Repose where there will be Watching until 11.15pm. “Could you not watch with Me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). We will also be with Him as He sweats blood during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, His arrest and trial. On Good Friday we will be with Him in the scourging and crowning with thorns, and the terrible journey on the Via Dolorosa which will culminate in His suffering and dying on the cross. Then on Saturday evening we celebrate the Easter Vigil beginning with the blessing of the Easter Fire and the Procession of the Paschal Candle into the dark church symbolising the Risen Christ Himself, Who is “the light of the world” (John 9:5).The Sacred Liturgy makes all these events present to us. I strongly recommend you do your best to be present at these beautiful and solemn ceremonies of Holy Week.

Fr Paul Gillham, IC

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NB: There is no Palm Sunday liturgy available to download


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