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The meaning of Palm Sunday and the Palms

Palm Sunday


Holy week begins with Palm Sunday – called Passion Sunday today – because the theme of Jesus’ suffering and death begins with the reading of the passion. Parish liturgies begin with the blessing of palms somewhere outside of the usual assembly area, in imitation of the triumphant “parade” of Jesus from ‘Bethany’ to ‘Jerusalem’ (Matthew 21:1-11). The gospel of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is read, followed by a procession into the church, with people holding blessed palms and singing festive songs. Soon afterward, however, the theme of the triumph changes radically with the reading of the passion narrative from the gospel of Matthew, Mark, or Luke (depending on what year of the liturgical cycle is being celebrated).

Palm Sunday liturgy is devoted, therefore, more to the suffering of Jesus that to his triumphant reception by the people. By telescoping these events, the church emphasizes the meaning of Holy Week rather than presents and accurate historical progression of saving events. On Palm Sunday the church celebrates the beginning of Jesus’ passage from life to death to new life: the Paschal Mystery.



Originally, people paraded or┬áBlessed palms have always been respected as holy objects or sacramentals. Some families place one or more on the wall behind a crucifix or holy picture until the nest Palm Sunday, or they might braid them into crosses for wall decorations. Others save them and burn a little when some crisis, such as a storm, threats. This custom may have originated in Austria, Bavaria and Slavic countries where it was common to scatter bits of blessed palms around on the farm to protect fields and animals against weather an diseases. Some of these traditions may very well be superstitious practices, presuming that there is a special power in the plants themselves. Already in ancient times Greeks and Romans believed that certain plants possessed mystical powers. Such was the case of mistletoe among the Druides in Celtic lands.processed in the original footsteps of Jesus from the little village of Bethany into the city of Jerusalem. As part of the festivities they carried real palm fronds or olive branches, the two most common trees in Palestine (see Matthew 21:18). These were replaced with local versions of “palms” as the celebration of Palm Sunday spread throughout Europe and then the entire world: willow branches, cedar branches, pussy willows, and flowers.

Before the beginning of Lent the following year, blessed palms are burned at the local church and the ashes used in the Ash Wednesday ritual