Q. Why do we celebrate the Passion on Palm Sunday?
A. Prior to the second Vatican Council, the Church in her liturgical calendar celebrated “Passion Sunday” two Sundays before Easter, and “Palm Sunday” the week before Easter to mark the beginning of Holy Week. In the current liturgical calendar, both “Palm Sunday” and “Passion Sunday” are celebrated together, as the start of Holy Week. The two names juxtapose the attitudes of the people toward Jesus in the time leading up to His suffering, death and resurrection.
Palm Sunday commemorates Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus instructed His disciples to go into a village and bring Him a colt, which He rode into Jerusalem. This action corresponds to words of the prophet Zechariah who said, “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9).
People had heard or saw that Jesus cured the sick, expelled demons, and raised Lazarus from the dead. Many began to believe that He was, indeed, the Christ, the anointed one. And so, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of this promised King. They did Him homage by taking palm branches and welcoming Him into the city. In this euphoria, His disciples said, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Lk 19:38).
While some were moved to believe that Jesus was the Christ, others were threatened by him and plotted to kill him. Jesus knows that the conspiracy to kill Him is looming, and we see this conspiracy enfold as the Passion of Jesus is read on Palm Sunday, which is why it is called “Passion Sunday.” Thus, during the sixth Sunday of Lent, the Church commemorates the joyful and triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and, at the same time, the bitter pains of his passion.
Since the fourth century, after the Church gained her freedom in the Roman Empire, the Church has re-enacted this triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The use of palm fronds by the participants began in the eighth century and has been incorporated into the Liturgy since then.
For centuries, Palm Sunday was also the occasion to bless flowers, and for this reason it was sometimes referred to as “Flower Sunday.”
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