Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians around the world. Holy Week encompasses the seven days leading up to Easter. It starts on Palm Sunday and includes Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday), Good Friday, and ends at midnight on Holy Saturday.
At the end of Holy Week is Easter Sunday, with the celebration of Jesus rising from the tomb. Palm Sunday commemorates the day Jesus entered Jerusalem; his last journey into the city before his death. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a choice that is highly symbolic as he intended to show the people that he came in peace.
History indicates that when a king rode into a city on a horse, he was preparing for war. Conversely, if a king entered on a donkey, he was coming in peace. Many people who heard Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem came forward to greet him. In the Gospel of St. John 12:13, it is written that a great multitude “took branches of palm trees and went forth to meet him and cried Hosanna: ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel.'” Within some religions, it is believed that palm leaves and robes were placed on the ground in front of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, akin to a “red carpet” welcome.
History of Palm Sunday
The history of Palm Sunday dates back to the early eighth century. “This Palm Sunday procession, and the blessing of palms, seems to have originated in the Frankish Kingdom. The earliest mention of these ceremonies is found in the Sacramentary of the Abbey of Bobbio in northern Italy.”
After some years, the celebration of this procession was discontinued. What remains today is the blessing of the palms, a procession to the church, and the celebration of Mass. In countries where palm branches are unavailable, other types of plants are used. In Italy, olive branches are utilized, symbolizing peace.
Ireland has used yew branches in the past, and Palm Sunday was known as Domhnach an Iúir or Yew Sunday. Other European countries may use willows or pussy willows. In the past, many older European countries also used flowers or flower petals on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is significant as the first day of Holy Week because it commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ final journey towards his death and resurrection.
Many people around the world observe Holy Week as a time for somber reflection on the impact of his ultimate, personal sacrifice for humanity. For Christians, this is a period for fasting and praying for enlightenment on how to emulate his example. Reflect on how one man, in a mere 33 years of life on Earth, has continued to change the lives of many.