Cardinal Nichols: Palm Sunday is a time of joy and sorrow

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On Palm Sunday (24th March), Cardinal Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) and Archbishop of Westminster, gave a homily explaining that Palm Sunday is a time for people to rejoice at Jesus’ life, while at the same time being aware of the suffering he had to endure.

Cardinal Nichols said that Holy Week was similar to the birth of a child, a time of great joy and celebration, as well as an acknowledgment that the road ahead will be “marked by disappointments and sorrow”.

The full homily is below.

Palm Sunday
24 March 2024

As we enter this Holy Week, let’s look back for a moment to its beginnings. The very first word spoken at the birth of Christianity was a word that echoes throughout the entire venture of faith. It’s a word that should fill our hearts, today and always. It’s the word used by the Angel Gabriel, announcing the intervention into our world of God made flesh. And that word is ‘Rejoice’.

Yes, we rejoice in our life of faith. ‘Rejoice’ is our watchword! It is to be the abiding disposition of our hearts.

The account of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was a story of a people rejoicing with real enthusiasm! Hosanna was their cry! They garlanded the pathway with branches and cloaks! They were so happy at what was happening.

And their joy was not at all misplaced. They were indeed welcoming their Saviour. Yet at the same time, their rejoicing was incomplete, lacking in awareness of what lay ahead.

This is often true of our moments of joy. The birth of a child brings such joy, yet it is not the whole story. The road ahead will also be marked by disappointments and sorrow. I once heard an explanation of why a baby cries at birth. The cries of a newborn child arise because the child has left its heavenly home in the mind of God, and those cries will continue until the child returns to that home. That journey home will involve sadness, suffering as well as great joy.

Today, in the readings of the Mass, we have heard of the sufferings to come in the life of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. We know them well. We listen again with compassion and gratitude to the narrative of his Passion, for we know he undergoes this great trial on our behalf.

But even as we are moved closer to tears, contemplating our Blessed Lord so cruelly treated, we can retain a profound sense of gratitude and joy. Yes, every day of this Holy Week we can truly rejoice. We rejoice not with a joy that has never been exposed to suffering, or which wants to pretend it doesn’t really count, but with a joy that already perceives through and beyond this vale of tears to the future that has been secured for us by Jesus, the Christ.

Many of you, I am sure, have had the experience of being at the bedside of someone who is dying. Emotions tumble over each other: grief at a parting, anger at a life being taken away, self-pity for the emptiness that lies ahead, compassion for all who suffer the loss. A little later, we see the longer horizon and the promise of the glory to come.

During this week, starting today with St Mark’s account of the Passion of Christ, we stand at the foot of the cross, conscious of the painful injustice of it all, moved by suffering so harshly inflicted. At the same time, we strive to see all this drama through the eyes of faith, remembering that Jesus did not cling to equality with God but emptied himself even to accepting death, death on a cross. Then we see that God raised him high and that now every knee should bend at the name of Jesus.

In this way, the gratitude deep in our hearts can come to the fore, even at the foot of the cross. We journey through this week, following the footsteps of Christ, with joy and thanksgiving.

My dear friends, let this Holy Week be a time in which we renew our thankfulness to God. Let that thankfulness never be extinguished by the cynical voices we hear today, nor by the antagonism that we experience, nor by weariness, for the gifts of the Lord outlast and outshine all things, even death itself.


Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster