The Sunday before Easter is one of the most important Sundays in the Liturgical year. Palm Sunday is celebrated on this day, representing the last Sunday of Lent and the first day of Holy Week. Holy Week is the most solemn week in the liturgical year. It is the time that we remember the last week of Jesus' life.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ's arrival in Jerusalem. It was a triumphant day for Jesus as the cheers from the crowds welcomed him. The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel! (Jn 12:12-13)
The Gospel passage describes Jesus' return to Jerusalem during Passover and his jubilant welcoming. The gathering crowds began a procession, and as they shouted and sang, they threw down their garments to cushion his ride. Palms were laid before Jesus on the streets and were waved upon him. It was said by the prophet Zechariah that a Messianic king would arrive in Jerusalem on the back of a colt. The crowd in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday as the Son of David. This act fulfilled the prophecy from Zechariah in the Old Testament. The irony of the situation is that later during the week, many of the same people cheering for Jesus would be shouting for his execution.
Jesus Christ's arrival in Jerusalem began what was sure to be a clash between himself and political and religious authorities. Religious officials feared that Jesus would win over the people, and eventually the Romans would tear down their temples and ruin their nation. The Pharisees felt threatened by him because Jesus had bested them in public debate. People were hailing Jesus as their king and believed him to be more than a man, and Jesus did not deny this. The established order was threatened. A new order was being heralded.
The Palm Sunday celebration itself is unique. The commemoration of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem is performed in one of three ways, the Procession, the Solemn Entrance, or the Simple Entrance. For the Procession, the congregation gathers outside of the church. Everyone receives palm branches which are then blessed with holy water and incense. The priest asks God to bless the palms so that they might protect the people and places where they are brought. The Gospel is proclaimed and the procession to the church follows.
If the Solemn Entrance is used, the congregation receives palm branches to carry. The priest goes to the door or another place outside the sanctuary. The branches are blessed and the Gospel is proclaimed. The priest then processes solemnly through the congregation while the entrance song is sung.
For the Simple Entrance, everyone receives palm branches upon arrival and the usual order of Mass follows. Whichever option is chosen, following the entrance celebration, the Mass continues and the Gospel reading is the Lord's Passion.
Palm branches are used the world over to represent joy and victory over enemies. In Jesus' day, the palm was the national emblem of independent Palestine. In Christianity, it represents something different. Palms symbolize the sign of victory over the body and the overcoming of sin. Palms are especially associated with the martyrs because of their dedication of faith until the end of their lives.
Palm Sunday is a day which offers Christians a moral example. This day can be spent by people to reflect upon the strength of their own commitment to their faith. Many of the people who were praising Jesus on Palm Sunday would later betray Him as they condemned Him to crucifixion. This can symbolize all the times that we may have been hypocritical in our support as followers of Christ. On this day, we can think about times we have rejected Jesus instead of following him.
Palm Sunday does not have to be limited to a religious aspect of self-examination. We can review our past offences and how we have hurt others. Palm Sunday gives us a chance to explore ourselves in a way that we might have neglected. It presents the opportunity to be forgiven for those times that we have been hypocritical to God and to other people. One way we can reconcile ourselves to God is to go to Confession. The Lord forgives us erring, just as Jesus forgave everyone when he was crucified and dying on the cross.
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