Skip to comments.Passion (Palm) Sunday
Posted on 03/26/2007 5:21:19 PM PDT by Salvation
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelcis!
Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Holy Week, the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian faith, begins with Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. In spite of the spiritual gravity of Holy Week, it begins with joy; for on this Sunday, the Church celebrates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem which foretells the victory of His Resurrection and His return to earth in glory; and with the first reading of the Passion in the liturgies of Holy Week, the Church begins her commemorative pilgrimage with her Lord on His way to Calvary.
Liturgical commemoration of the Passion actually begins during the fifth week of Lent, when Masses are focused on the power of the Cross and the Kingship of Christ. Until the liturgical reforms just before the Second Vatican Council restored important liturgical elements of the early Church which had gradually disappeared (the Easter Vigil, for example), the Fifth Sunday of Lent was called Passion Sunday, and the Sunday beginning Holy Week was called Palm Sunday. Earliest accounts describing the beginning of Holy Week speak of Passion Sunday.
The blessing and distribution of palms takes place on Passion Sunday, and altar decorations are palm branches rather than flowers. The palms are solemnly blessed by the priest, and each worshipper holds the blessed palm during the singing of the ancient hymn, Gloria Laus ("All Glory, Laud and Honor") and during reading of the Passion.
These solemnly blessed palms are sacramentals, or signs of Christ's grace which help Christians in the practice of the faith, and, as they are associated with Christ's triumph, the palms symbolize victory over spiritual danger and death. For this reason, palms are associated with martyrdom, and often appear in paintings and sculpture of those who were martyred for the faith. This also explains the old custom of burning a palm in the stove in time of danger (from a threatening storm, for example).
As the blessed palms are sacramentals, then, Catholics keep them in their homes, customarily placing them behind the crucifix. The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from the burning of blessed palms.
This Sunday was also sometimes called the Pasch of Flowers in European countries, because throughout the Middle Ages flowers were blessed on this day along with palms and olive branches. (The State of Florida is so named because Ponce de Leon landed there on Pasqua Florida Sunday.) The words "pasch" and "paschal" come from the Hebrew word "pesach'" meaning "passage" or "passover."
The Passion Sunday liturgy, incorporating both the blessing of the palms and commemoration of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to the joyous Hosannas of the people, and the reading of the Passion Gospel, combines two contrasting elements .The two parts are linked by the traditional procession which follows the blessing and distribution of the palms and which leads into the Sacrifice of the Mass; hence symbolically reproducing the historical event of Our Lord's royal entry into Jerusalem which signifies the actual meeting of the Church with Christ; moreover, His entry foretells the entry of the faithful into the eternal Jerusalem, the Kingdom of Heaven.
According to the account of a fifth-century Spanish pilgrim to the Holy Land, Passion Sunday Mass was celebrated in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After this the people were invited to meet again in the afternoon at the Mount of Olives, in the Church of Eleona (the grotto of the Our Father). They then proceeded to the Church of the Ascension for a service consisting of hymns and antiphons, readings and prayers, where at five o'clock in the afternoon the Gospel of the palms was read and the procession set out for the city. The people responded to the antiphons with the acclamation, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord," as we say even today.
All these pilgrims carried palms, and with their little children in their arms they escorted the bishop (who represented the Savior) to the Church of the Resurrection where the processsion ended with Vespers (evening prayer).
This palm procession was introduced in the West first in France and then in Italy. In the Middle Ages the custom began of carving a wooden statue of Christ seated on a donkey which was then placed on a cart, the center of the procession. These statues were called Palm Donkeys or Palmesels, and some are preserved in museums.
In medieval Rome the papal procession set out from the papal residence at the Lateran, then the official headquarters of the Popes as the Vatican is now. The palms were blessed by a cardinal and some were distributed by acolytes at the ancient Church of St. Sylvester nearby. The Pope alsodistributed them himself in the Hall of Leo IV at the Lateran.
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