When is Palm Sunday (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Christian populations
Observed on Last Sunday of Lent
Observed by Christians
Palm Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent and the first day of Holy Week, commemorating the last week of Jesus’ mortal life. Jesus was the prophet of Christianity, and Christians believe he was the Son of God incarnate and the second personage of the Holy Trinity, which is made up of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The day is as much about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as it is about the beginning of his journey to the Cross. His arrival in Jerusalem was indeed the way to the Cross.
Origins and History
In Western churches (the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant Churches, and the Eastern churches affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church) Palm Sunday was originally known as the Second Sunday of the Passion, since the fifth Sunday of Lent is Passion Sunday (or the First Sunday of the Passion).
The Armenian churches observe another Palm Sunday on the seventh Sunday after Easter to celebrate Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. The Armenian Church is an Eastern Orthodox Church, and it follows a different schedule, one based on the Julian calendar, while Western churches follow the Gregorian calendar. There the Ascension is celebrated on the 40th day after Easter Sunday.
Jesus had already foretold his betrayal and Resurrection to his disciples on the way to Jerusalem from Judea. The day was April 10, 30 C.E., according to some calculations. They stopped at the Mount of Olives near Bethany, and Jesus sent two disciples to the village of Bethphage to bring him the donkey and its foal tied at the crossway of two roads. They did so and placed their clothes on the foal to provide a comfortable seat. The disciples then cut branches to cover the path Jesus took, and Jesus rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah. People welcomed him by waving palm and olive branches, and strewing garments and branches on the road. There were different perceptions at work: Jesus rode in on a donkey, a humble entry of a peaceful nature for a spiritual king; but the people of Jerusalem welcomed him with palm and olive branches and the laying of garments in his path, because they wanted a worldly king to defeat the Romans.
Palm Sunday was first celebrated in Jerusalem, and the practice spread to Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor, reaching Constantinople in the fifth century The emperor took part in the Palm Sunday procession and gave palm and lilac branches to his nobles and staff. The processions were accompanied by the singing of the stycheras, hymns composed by Saints Andrew of Crete, John Damascene, Theodore Studite, and Joseph. Gradually, the holiday reached the West and received its present name Palm Sunday.
The day was observed in the Holy Land as early as the fourth century, as is evident from the “Peregrinato Artheriae” (“Pilgrimage of Aetheria”), the nun Aetheria’s letter recording her pilgrimage to the Holy Land during Holy Week celebrations.
Church services originally took place in the evening at 5 P.M. but were shifted to the morning in the sixth and seventh centuries.
The reconciliation of sinners was restricted to Holy Saturday in the first few centuries of the church but was later administered on Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday as well. New converts were baptized on Easter but began preparing on the Sunday before. People washed and shaved their hair-this practice was known as capitalavium (“shampoo”)-as a prerequisite to baptism. All these customs were observed with great piety, particularly in Spain, Gaul (France), and Milan (Italy).
In Jerusalem, the whole day was spent in observance of rites: Worshippers would assemble at the Martyrion Church (behind the Cross at Golgotha).
After the service, all would proceed at 1 P.M. to the Mount of Olives, to the cave where Jesus taught.
After two hours of prayers and hymns, the worshippers went to Imbomon (the place of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven). There they would gather for readings from the Bible. The passage about the children of Jerusalem carrying palm and olive branches and greeting Jesus with the words, “Blessed is He that Cometh in the Name of the Lord,”’ was the signal for all to begin the journey back to Jerusalem, repeating the words all the while.
The children would carry palm or olive branches.
Vespers (evening prayers) at the Anastasis (the Church of the Resurrection) and prayers at the Church of the Holy Cross were the finale of Palm Sunday observances.
The blessing of the palms was not originally part of Palm Sunday observances. The ritual originated in Jerusalem, and in 397 Peter, Bishop of Edessa, ordered the benediction of palms in all Mesopotamian churches. It was not until the eighth and ninth centuries that it became a widely observed practice in Roman churches.
In the Middle Ages, people assembled at the cross in the churchyard and would then proceed into church carrying palm branches to be blessed.
Their path through the churchyard would be strewn with flowers and branches of willow and yew trees. In Germany and France, the gathering would decorate the cross in the churchyard with flowers and green branches and carry it into the church.
This cross was known as the Palm Cross. Another popular custom was to carry a wooden figure of Jesus riding a donkey in a Palm Sunday procession, which often entered the church itself. Such pieces can be seen at the Museums of Zurich, Munich, Basel, and Nurnberg. Occasionally the Blessed Sacrament (in a covered box), uncovered crucifixes, or holy books would be carried in the procession.
Whatever the practice, the blessing of the palms and the entry into church was followed by the Mass and the singing of the Passion. The hymn “Gloria Laus” was always sung before Mass; it is believed to have been composed by Theodalphus of Orleans (d.
821) around 810.
Palm Sunday is one of the 12 major festivals of the Byzantine Church, where it is also known as Vaj Sunday. In the sixth and seventh centuries there were morning processions, and the palms were blessed after readings from the Gospels. The two prayers used to bless palms in the Byzantine Rite church are most probably the original prayers for the occasion because they are found in the oldest book of rituals, the Euchologion of Barberini dating from the ninth century. The first of these two prayers focuses on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the second is about the olive branch brought to Noah by a dove after the great flood. That branch symbolized peace and God’s protection, and the prayer calls for God’s peace for the households that will keep the palms respectfully. Holy water is sprinkled on the palms, after which they are distributed among the faithful. Present-day prayers speak of branches in general (palm branches are the only ones mentioned by name), but in the 10th century palm, olive, myrtle, and laurel branches were all mentioned by name, along with seasonal flowers.
In Lower Bavaria boys would roam the streets singing hymns or carols, particularly the “Pueri Hebraeorum.” The boys were soon named the Pueribuben. In the regions of the Lower Rhine, the blessed branches were placed on graves, but in most other regions these were stored safely, and burned to provide ash for the next year’s Ash Wednesday rite.
Palms are an ancient symbol of peace and victory, and their symbolism probably originated in the Jewish custom of carrying palm branches on special occasions. The word for date palms, loinix, was easily conflated with the phoenix, the bird that rose from its ashes time and again, and palms became a symbol of resurrection and even immortality. Christian martyrs are usually depicted holding palm branches, and ancient art has Jesus in a heaven verdant with palms.
In a world increasingly concerned about ecological balance, the use of palm fronds has raised concerns about the viability of their continued use in Palm Sunday observances worldwide. The demand can often exceed a million fronds in a single country where Palm Sunday is observed, and worldwide the figure is staggering. Sustainable cultivation is clearly the only means to a continued supply and a healthy environment, and the identification of such cultivators and suppliers has become a necessity. Collecting palm fronds is an important means of livelihood in some countries. In Guatemala, for instance, over 25 percent of the population relies on this for a living.