On the last Sunday in Lent we remember the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem recounted in all four Gospels: “”Great crowds of people spread their cloaks in the road, while others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading then in his path. The crowds who went in front of him and those who followed were all shouting: ‘Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heavens!’” – this is an acclamation that we still use in the Mass today.
Palm, or Passion, Sunday marks the start of the most important week in the Church’s year – Holy Week that will end with Jesus giving us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, being betrayed, dying on the cross and rising to new life on the third day.
Because this feast is connected to the Passion of Jesus the liturgical colour is red. The Mass itself takes on a rather different appearance. It begins with the blessing of the palms with holy water and a reading from one of the Gospels telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Then, led by the altar servers and clergy the people may process to the church carrying palms and singing hymns and psalms that reflect the triumphal mood of the entry into Jerusalem. At the church, when the procession reaches the sanctuary the penitential rite and Gloria are omitted and Mass continues with the Opening Prayer. The first two readings are those of the day – Isaiah 50: 4-7 and Philippians 2: 6-11 and reflect on Jesus as the suffering servant who emptied Himself of His Divinity to become man, even to accepting death on a cross. There is no Gospel – this was read at the start of the Mass. Instead there is the long reading of the account of the Passion from either Matthew, Mark or Luke (John is read on Good Friday) depending on the year. This is usually done in three voices: one taking the words of Jesus, the second the words of the other characters while the third narrates the scene. During the Passion it is customary to kneel for a moment in silent prayer after the verse recounting the death of the Lord. Incense and candles are not used for the reading of the Passion although everyone stands during it.