Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast which always falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates an event reported by all four Canonical Gospels , and and

Matthew quotes this passage from Zechariah when narrating the story of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem. His interpreting or even misunderstanding the repetition in the Hebrew poetry as describing two different donkeys: "gentle and riding on a donkey", "on a colt, the foal of a donkey", is offered by some Biblical scholars as a reason for Matthew's unique description of Jesus riding both a donkey and its foal.

A widespread Jewish belief states that the Mount of Olives would see the coming of the Messiah (see Josephus, Flavius, "Bellum Judaicum", 11,13,5 and "Antiquitates Judaicae", XX,8,6). This belief is based upon "Zechariah 14:3-4":

Then shall the Lord go forth and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle./ And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east [...]

The palm branches and the visitation, later the purification of the Temple send to supreme practices of liberation which are to be seen, by example, in "1 Maccabees 13:51":

On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred and seventy-first year, the Jews [led by Simon Maccabeus] entered it [the fortress of Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.
The "great enemy" in Jesus days on earth was the Roman army; and one can imagine that many Jews saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem as the advent of a revengeful Messiah who will wipe out the Romans from Holy Land.

But, then, there is the problem of the donkey. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a question asked by the Persian king Shevor: "Why doesn't your Messiah come riding on a horse? If he lacks one, I'll be glad to provide him with one of my best!" (Sanhedrin 98a). Indeed, why should the Messiah come on a donkey? The answer stays in the symbolism of the donkey, which in some Eastern traditions seems to be seen as an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war. Therefore, it was said that a king came riding upon a horse when he was bent on war and rode upon a donkey when he wanted to point out that he was coming in peace. Thus, the king riding "on a colt, the foal of a donkey" complies with the epithet "gentle" or "lowly" (Hebrew anî - poor, afflicted) and strongly implies the message of peace. This message of peace was always fundamental with Jesus, but it is not clear how well understood was it in those days. In fact, John declares: "These things understood not His disciples at the first" (12:16). It is highly probable that the public enthusiasm of the day saw the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem more like a declaration of war against Israel's enemies than a message of peace.

In the book Sanhedrin from the Babylonian Gemara it is written that the Messiah will appear as a poor man on a donkey only if the Jews are not found deserving of salvation. Otherwise, the Messiah will ride on a horse. Since all humans are sinners, including Jews, it is obvious that the Messiah will always ride on a donkey. However, this is a Christian belief and not supported in Judaism (Jews, for example, do not believe in original sin).

Day of week

On the tenth of Nisan, according to the Mosaic Law, the lambs to be slaughtered at Passover were chosen. Because of the link of this to the Triumphal Entry, some new interpretations report that the event was not even on Sunday, because Nisan 10 would not be a Sunday if the Crucifixion occurred on Friday the fourteenth. This day in the year of the Passion saw Messiah presented as the sacrificial Lamb. It heralded his impending role as the Suffering Servant of Israel (Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12:10).

The first day of any Old Testament feast was always considered a Sabbath regardless of what day it fell on. The Feast of Unleavened Bread always begins on Nisan the 15th. Passover was celebrated the Evening before. If Nisan the 15th was a Saturday, then Preparation Day (Matthew 27:62) was Friday the 14th, or Good Friday. In any event, that would mean that the events of Palm Sunday actually occurred on Monday, being five days before ().

If Nisan the 15th was a Friday, however, then Jesus was actually crucified on Thursday, Preparation Day, with Friday being a special Sabbath, a high holy day (John 19:31), and the events of Palm Sunday would be Nisan the 10th, late in the day, (Mark 11:11). Thus the days later that week would be Thursday, Preparation Day, Friday a special Sabbath followed by Saturday a regular Sabbath.

So if there is a relationship between the triumphal entry and the selection of the Pascal lamb on the tenth either Jesus was crucified on Thursday or the events of Palm Sunday happened on Monday. One final option is that Jesus was crucified on Friday the 15th of Nisan. See the article on the Chronology of Jesus for more details.

Observance in the liturgy

Western Christianity

The Roman Catholic Church traditionally called this Sunday the "Second Sunday of the Passion"; in 1970 the formal designation was changed to "Passion Sunday", a change that has caused considerable confusion because the latter term had hitherto been affixed to the previous Sunday, or the fifth within Lent. It is now called "Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion."

On Palm Sunday, in the Roman Catholic Church, as well as many Anglican churches, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergilium outside the church building (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year) and a procession enters, singing, re-enacting the entry into Jerusalem. In most Lutheran churches and in many other Protestant churches, a similar practice is followed without the aspergilium.

The procession may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, the children of the parish or indeed the entire congregation as in the churches of the East. In Oriental Orthodox churches palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation processes through and outside the church. In some Lutheran churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church while the adults remain seated.

The palms are saved in many churches to be burned the following year as the source of ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Roman Catholic Church considers the palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the color of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city who welcomed him to fulfill- his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches, the day is nowadays officially called "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday"; however, in practice it is usually termed "Palm Sunday" as in the historic Book of Common Prayer, by way of avoiding undue confusing with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was "Passion Sunday."

In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), on Palm Sunday the faithful carry palm branches into the church, as they sing Psalm 24.

Eastern and Oriental Christianity

In the Eastern Orthodox Church Palm Sunday is often called the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, it is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year, and is the beginning of Holy Week. The day before is known as Lazarus Saturday, and commemorates the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. Unlike the West, Palm Sunday is not considered to be a part of Lent, the Eastern Orthodox Great Fast ends on the Friday before. Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday and Holy Week are considered to be a separate fasting period. On Lazarus Saturday believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive color—in the Slavic tradition this is often green.

The Troparion of the Feast indicates that the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus' own Resurrection:

:"O Christ our God":"When Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion",:"Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe".:"Wherefore, we like children",:"carry the banner of triumph and victory",:"and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of Death",:"Hosanna in the highest"!:"Blessed is He that cometh":"in the Name of the Lord".

In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Ruthenian Catholic Church, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem", and so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the service, and keep them in their icon corner as an "evloghia" (blesing).

In Tsarist Russia, there was a formal procession into Moscow on Palm Sunday. The Tsar, himself on foot to show humility, would lead the Patriarch of Moscow, who was seated on a donkey, into the city. The procession would end at the "Lobnoe Miesto", a circular stone platform on the east side of Red Square used for public proclamations and executions, upon which a Calvary had been erected. This annual procession continued until 1694, when it was discontinued by Peter I, as a part of his suppression of the church. There is a famous painting of this procession by Vyacheslav Shvarts (1868), which can be seen [ here] , and a drawing in the "Mayerberg Album" (1661) can be seen [] . An embroidery which may depict the scene from 1498, together with a description of its political importance, can be found [ here] .


It is customary in many churches for the worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In parts of the world where this has historically been impractical substitute traditions have arisen.


In Latvia, Palm Sunday is called "Pussy Willow Sunday," and pussy willows - symbolizing new life - and blessed and distributed to the faithful [] . Children are often woken that morning with ritualistic swats of a willow branch. [] .


In Kerala in South India (and in Indian Orthodox congregations elsewhere in India and throughout the West) flowers are strewn into the sanctuary on Palm Sunday the during the reading of the Gospel at the words uttered by the crowd welcoming Jesus, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who is come and is to come in the name of the Lord God." These words are read to the congregation thrice. The congregation repeats, "Hosanna" and flowers are showered. This is in echo of pre-Christian Hindu celebrations in which flowers are strewn on festive occasions, but also in echo of the honour shown to Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem. Indian Orthodoxy traces its roots to the arrival in India of St Thomas the Apostle, by tradition in AD 54, and his evangelism among both the Brahmans of the Malabar Coast and the ancient Jewish community there. Its rites and ceremonies are both Hindu and Jewish as well as Levantine Christian in origin.


In Elx, Spain, the location of the biggest palm grove in Europe, there is a tradition of tying and covering palm leaves to whiten them away from sunlight and then drying and braiding them in elaborate shapes.

A Spanish rhyming proverb states: "Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena algo, se le caen las manos" ("On Palm Sunday, the hands drop off of those who fail to wear something new").


All the parishes of Malta and Gozo on Palm Sunday (in Maltese "Ħadd il-Palm") bless the palm leaves and the olive leaves. Those parishes that have the statues of Good Friday bless the olive tree that they put on the statues of "Jesus prays in the Olive Garden" (Ġesù fl-Ort) and the "Betrayal of Judas" (il-Bewsa ta' Ġuda). Also many people take a small branch of olive to their home because say that the blessed olive branch keeps away disease and the evil eye (għajn ħażina).


In the Saxon regions of the Netherlands, crosses are decorated with candy and bread, made in the form of a rooster. In the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden a great procession with oil lamps is held the night before Palm Sunday in honour of the Sorrowful Mother of Warfhuizen.


Many Polish towns and villages (the best known are Lipnica Murowana in Małopolska and Łyse in Podlasie) organize artificial palm competitions. The biggest of those reach above 30 meters in length; for example, the highest palm in 2008 had 33.39 meters.


In Bulgaria Palm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa. People with flower-related names, (for example Tzviatko, Margarita, Lilia, Violeta, Yavor, Zdravko, Zjumbjul, Nevena, Temenuzhka, etc.) celebrate this day as their "name day".

ee also

*Crucifixion eclipse
*Palm branch (symbol)

External links

* [ An Order of Service for Palm Sunday]
* [ Learn how to make a cross out of palms]
* [ Palm Sunday (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia)]
* [ Palm Sunday prophets and processions and Eucharistic controversy]
* [ Palm Sunday according to the Byzantine Rite Tradition]
* [ Palm Sunday] Description of Feast and Icon (Greek Orthodox)
* [ Entry of Our Lord into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)] Orthodox icon and synaxarion


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Palm Sunday — • The sixth and last Sunday of Lent and beginning of Holy Week Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Palm Sunday     Palm Sunday     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Palm Sunday —    Palm Sunday, also known as the second Sunday of the Passion, is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent and the first Sunday of Holy Week; Palm Sunday derives its name from the blessing of, and procession with, palms in commemoration of the entrance …   Glossary of theological terms

  • Palm Sunday — Palm Sun day (Eccl.) The Sunday next before {Easter}; so called in commemoration of the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, when the multitude strewed palm branches in the way. The event is commemorated in Christian churches by… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Palm Sunday — n. the Sunday before Easter, commemorating in Christian churches Jesus entry into Jerusalem, when palm branches were strewn before him: now also called Passion Sunday or Second Sunday of the Passion …   English World dictionary

  • Palm Sunday — n the Sunday before Easter in the Christian Church …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Palm Sunday — noun count or uncount the Sunday before Easter, when Christians remember Christ s journey to Jerusalem before he died …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Palm Sunday — ► NOUN ▪ the Sunday before Easter, on which Christ s entry into Jerusalem is celebrated by processions in which branches of palms are carried …   English terms dictionary

  • Palm Sunday — the Sunday before Easter, celebrated in commemoration of Christ s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. [bef. 1000; ME; OE] * * * or Passion Sunday In Christianity, the first day of Holy Week and the Sunday before Easter, commemorating Jesus triumphal… …   Universalium

  • Palm Sunday — UK / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms Palm Sunday : singular Palm Sunday plural Palm Sundays the Sunday before Easter, when Christians remember Christ s journey to Jerusalem before he died …   English dictionary

  • Palm Sunday —    The Sixth Sunday in Lent, the first day in Holy Week. It commemorates the entry of our Lord into Jerusalem when the people strewed the way with palm branches and cried, Hosanna to the Son of David. It was formerly customary for worshippers to… …   American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia