Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday as many people commonly know it, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final Sunday of Lent – a day we commemorate the triumphant arrival of Christ into Jerusalem, just days before the crucifixion.
Here is how the triumphal entry is told in Matthew 21: 1-11 (ESV):
“[The disciples] brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’
“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.'”
On Palm Sunday the faithful receive palm fronds which are used to re-enact the triumphant arrival of Our Lord in Jerusalem. The palms are seen as a symbol of peace and victory. During the Palm Sunday Mass, palms are distributed to parishioners who carry them in a ritual procession into the church. The palms blessed on Palm Sunday are used in the procession of the day, then taken home by the faithful and used for personal devotion. Some people leave them in the church but the palms must not be thrown away as they are blessed. From the blessed palms the ashes are procured for the following year’s Ash Wednesday observance.
The faithful will participate to one of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion.
The Liturgical colours of the Palm Sunday Mass are red and white, symbolising the redemption in blood that Christ paid for the world.
A week later, Christ will rise from the dead on the first day of Easter.
In 2020, acts of public worship were suspended before, during and after Holy Week to address the global COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the Celebrations for Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum will be in the presence of Christ’s faithful.
However, there is a continuing need for social distancing measures, mask wearing and careful hygiene. To this end, the Bishops’ Conference has provided guidance for Holy Week. Here’s the section on Palm Sunday:
The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem should be celebrated within the church buildings and not outside. The Procession should not take place and the Second Form: The Solemn Entrance should be used. The ministers should enter into the Church at a suitable place where the palm branches to be blessed are provided. These should be blessed at the appropriate point and the Gospel of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem is proclaimed. After the Gospel, the ministers move to the Sanctuary and the Mass continues with the Collect.
The shorter form of the Passion from the Gospel of St Mark should be read in a dignified yet expeditious manner with or without multiple readers. The turba parts should not be exclaimed by the congregation.
The palm branches blessed during the celebration of the liturgy should be distributed to the faithful as they leave the church after Mass. Those distributing the palm branches should wear single-use gloves when doing so.