What Is Palm Sunday?
There are certain moments of the Church’s calendar that stand out for their symbolism: the manger at Christmas, ashes on the forehead to start Lent, and the branches of Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday begins the most solemn week of the year: Holy Week. As we walk with Jesus through his Passion and death throughout this week, we begin with the crowds in Jerusalem. It was customary for the inhabitants of Jerusalem to welcome pilgrims coming for the Passover with palms, although Jesus uses the occasion finally to manifest publicly that he is the Messiah. He rides into the city on a colt and donkey (the latter most likely for his feet), fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. The crowds acclaim him as the Son of David.
To help enter into this moment, it was traditional in Catholic countries to have outdoor processions, which could center on statues of Christ riding a donkey, a living reenactment, or even the Blessed Sacrament. This continued the manifestation of the kingship of Christ by sharing in the acclamation of the crowds. Starting Mass in the back of the Church with a first Gospel of the day’s events is a remnant of this tradition. We take the palms home as a reminder of this event and a blessing for the home.
Jesus comes to this moment of triumph only to show forth his kingship in suffering. On Palm Sunday we read the Passion account from one of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), which is recited or sung with different parts: the narrator, Jesus, secondary voices, and the crowds. This is a dramatic moment of recognizing that the Messiah has come to die for our sins and it points us all to the events commemorated through Holy Week as we prepare for Easter.
Palm Sunday provides us a unique combination of rejoicing and penance. We anticipate Easter with the victory of the true King over sin and death. And yet, we still have to enter into the dark valley of the Passion with Jesus in order to enter into that victory. The Palm Sunday procession leads us to the hill of Calvary but from there to the tomb, where the final victory will be won.
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Dr. Staudt holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Ave Maria University and B.A. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He serves as Director of Content for Exodus and as Visiting Associate Professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver. He was previously the Associate Superintendent for the Archdiocese of Denver. He has founded a Catholic school and served as a DRE in two parishes and as Director of Catholic Studies at the University of Mary. He is the author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today (Angelico Press). His editing experience includes six years as the managing editor of the journal Nova et Vetera and the books Renewing Catholic Schools: How to Regain a Catholic Vision in a Secular Age (Catholic Education Press) and The University and the Church: Don J. Briel’s Essays on Education (Cluny Media).
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