Palm Sunday foreshadows what is to come

Published: March 20, 2024

Contact Your Parish for Mass Times

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, March 24. All are welcome. For Palm Sunday Mass times in your area, contact a parish near youTo learn why we use palms, read about the symbolism of palms in the ancient world, enjoy a craft project with your kids and make a palm cross or learn how to perserve your blessed palm after Mass.

En Español

"The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding (Jesus) and those following kept crying out and saying: 'Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.'" (Matthew 21:1-11) This Scripture describes Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, an event we reenact on Palm Sunday, which is celebrated the Sunday before Easter marking the beginning of Holy Week.

The Catholic Church remembers this event during the procession that begins every Mass. On Palm Sunday, the connection is made clear as the assembly joins the priest in a solemn procession into the church. Waving blessed palms and singing praise, we put ourselves in the crowd who had come to the city to celebrate the Passover feast. We see Jesus approaching the city, riding on a colt, and get excited because we have heard the stories about the miracles he has performed. 

Foreshadowing what was to come, "this joyful scene belies the traitorous acts, sorrow and agony that will soon follow, belies that this triumphant hero will be crucified like a criminal." | Learn more about Palm Sunday Liturgy.

Some may wonder, why wave palms? Palms were used in Jewish tradition to celebrate triumph or victory. For Christians, the palm branch became a symbol of martyrdomEven the words used to praise Jesus as he entered Jerusalem have deeper meaning. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the word "hosanna" means "save" or "give salvation." This term along with the acclamation, "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," is used during the Sanctus (Holy, Holy) of every Mass. It concludes the preface to the eucharistic prayer "that introduces the memorial of the Lord's Passover." | Don't throw away your palm after Mass.

Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday and the reason becomes evident as the tone of the Mass radically changes with the reading of Christ's passion and death as the Gospel for the day. Becoming part of the angry mob, we go from welcoming Jesus as a king to condemning him as a criminal shouting: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" 

In a homily about these events, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) offers this perspective. "What a contrast between the green branches and the cross, between the flowers and the thorns. Before they were offering their own clothes for him to walk upon, and so soon afterwards they are stripping him of his, and casting lots upon them."

The custom of reenacting of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem is ancient. Soon after his resurrection Christians wanted to visit the holy sites in Jerusalem but that wasn't possible until the fourth century when Constantine became emperor of the Roman Empire and ended all religious persecution, according to Simply Catholic.

During this time, a Spanish pilgrim named Egeria recorded in her diary how Christians "gathered outside the city on the Sunday before Easter and listened to one of the Gospels telling of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Then they marched together through the city gates while carrying olive or palm branches." The practice eventually spread throughout the Christian world so that by the 17th century, "Christians were not only processing into church with palms but, during Mass, holding the palms while the passion was being read."

Since then, the Palm Sunday liturgy has been standardized and simplified but continues to engage us and challenge us to enter into the events that accomplished the salvation of the world.