For the Kurt Vonnegut book, see Palm Sunday (book).
Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels. Palm Sunday marks the first day of Holy Week, the last week of the Christian solemn season of Lent that precedes the arrival of Eastertide.
Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (1320) by Pietro Lorenzetti: entering the city on a donkey symbolizes arrival in peace rather than as a war-waging king arriving on a horse.
Observed byChristiansSignificancecommemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem; first day in Holy WeekObservancesChurch attendance, blessing and distribution of palms, church processions, hanging palm branches obtained from church liturgies behind Christian artwork or placing palm branches in Bibles and devotional booksDateMoveable feast, Sunday before Easter2019 date
April 14 (Western)
April 21 (Eastern)
April 5 (Western)
April 12 (Eastern)
March 28 (Western)
April 25 (Eastern)
April 10 (Western)
April 17 (Eastern)
Small crosses woven from blessed palms, obtained on Palm Sunday
In most liturgical churches Palm Sunday is celebrated by the blessing and distribution of palm branches or the branches of other native trees representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Christ as he rode into Jerusalem. The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. The Sunday was often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.
Many churches of mainstream Christian denominations, including the Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Moravian and Reformed traditions, distribute palm branches to their congregations during their Palm Sunday liturgies. Christians take these palms, which are often blessed by clergy, to their homes where they hang them alongside Christian art (especially crosses and crucifixes) or keep them in their Bibles or devotionals. In the period preceding the next year's Lent, known as Shrovetide, churches often place a basket in their narthex to collect these palms, which are then ritually burned on Shrove Tuesday to make the ashes to be used on the following day, Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.
Biblical basis and symbolism
Observance in the liturgyDates for Palm Sunday
In Gregorian datesYearWesternEastern2013March 24April 282014April 132015March 29April 52016March 20April 242017April 92018March 25April 12019April 14April 212020April 5April 122021March 28April 252022April 10April 172023April 2April 92024March 24April 282025April 132026March 29April 52027March 21April 25
Eastern and Oriental Christianity
Palm Sunday, or the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem" as it may be called in Orthodox Churches, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. The day before Palm Sunday, Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive color – most commonly green.
The Troparion of the Feast (a short hymn) indicates that the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus's own Resurrection:
O Christ our God
When Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,
Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe.
Wherefore, we like children,
carry the banner of triumph and victory,
and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of love,
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that cometh
in the Name of the Lord.
In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ruthenian Catholic Church, Polish, Bavarian and Austrian Roman Catholics, and various other Eastern European peoples, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem", so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands, holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the liturgy, and keep them in their icon corner as an evloghia (blessing).
In Russia, donkey walk processions took place in different cities, but most importantly in Novgorod and, from 1558 until 1693, in Moscow. These were prominently featured in testimonies by foreign witnesses and mentioned in contemporary Western maps of the city. The Patriarch of Moscow, representing Christ, rode on a "donkey" (actually a horse draped in white cloth); the Tsar of Russia humbly led the procession on foot. Originally, Moscow processions began inside the Kremlin and terminated at Trinity Church, now known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, but in 1658 Patriarch Nikon reversed the order of procession. Peter I in the 1720s, as a part of his nationalisation of the church, terminated the custom; it has been occasionally recreated in the 21st century.
In Oriental Orthodox churches, palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps. In India the sanctuary itself is strewn with marigolds, and the congregation proceeds through and outside the church.
Palm Sunday in Eastern and Oriental Christianity
Palm Sunday procession, Moscow, with Tsar Alexei Michaelovich (painting by Vyacheslav Schwarz, 1865)
Palm Sunday in Moscow, 1654.
Caption on the illustration: Abrieß der Muscowitischen Prozession am Palmsontag
Orthodox congregation in India collects palm fronds for procession: men on left of sanctuary in the photo; women collecting fronds on right of sanctuary, outside photo.
Eastern Orthodox fresco in Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Bitola, Republic of North Macedonia
Palm Sunday in East Timor
In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Again at the end of the Bible, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus (Revelation 7:9).
Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1–9), when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday. It thus marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent.
In churches of many Christian denominations, members of the congregation, oftentimes children, are given palms that they carry as they walk in a procession around the inside of the church. In the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant Church, the faithful on Palm Sunday carry palm branches into the church as they sing Psalm 24.
In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as among many Anglican and Lutheran congregations, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergillum outside the church building in an event called the "blessing of palms" if using palm leaves (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year). A solemn procession also takes place, and often includes the entire congregation.
In the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church, this feast now coincides with that of Passion Sunday, which is the focus of the Mass which follows the palms ceremony. The palms are saved in many churches to be burned on Shrove Tuesday the following year to make ashes used in Ash Wednesday liturgies. The Catholic Church considers the blessed palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the colour of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city to fulfill: his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.
Blessing of palms outside an Episcopal Church in the United States
Palm Sunday and other named days and day ranges around Lent and Easter in Western Christianity, with the fasting days of Lent numbered
In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches and in Lutheran churches, as well, the day is nowadays officially called "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday"; in practice, though, it is usually termed "Palm Sunday" as in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer and in earlier Lutheran liturgies and calendars, to avoid undue confusion with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was "Passion Sunday".
In traditional usage of the Methodist Church, The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) provides the following Collect for Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind hast sent thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[26
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