Passion Versus Palm Sunday

I know that there is no such thing as a “theme” for any liturgical celebration. In every liturgy we celebrate the Paschal Mystery and every aspect of our salvation is present there. So, on Palm Sunday we celebrate everything. Nonetheless the Roman Missal informs us that it is Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. So both the Entry into Jerusalem and the Passion are main foci of the celebration.

Personally, I have always felt that the Passion part has been given short shrift. We rarely speak about the Passion element of this Sunday.  Yes, we read the Passion from the Synoptics as the Gospel of the Mass.  But popular piety is usually concentrated on the much shorter Gospel at the start of the Mass when Jesus Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is proclaimed. The Passion Gospel is almost a dry run for the regal Passion Gospel from John on Good Friday.

This year I, like many others, will celebrate the Sunday at the start of Holy Week without any of the normal pomp and circumstance. Here in the Republic of Ireland, we are going to celebrate Holy Week and the Triduum without an assembly in the churches. Processions are not encouraged this year.  Even the Congregation for Divine Worship recognizes that in most places a simple entrance will suffice for the Eucharistic liturgy.

God willing, we will have all the liturgical hoopla back next year and struggle with the multivalence of the twin poles of Passion and Palms. But this year we shall look more intently at Christ who “as an example of humility for the human race to follow … [took] flesh and submit[ted] to the Cross, that we [might] heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection.” (Collect of the Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord from the Roman Missal)


  1. Well, I had encountered something strange this Palm Sunday (after an a-liturgical experience of Palm Sunday last year): a liturgy shorn *entirely* of the Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem (and instead replaced by the normal opening rite for Mass). I was expecting at least the Simple Entrance, and perhaps for palms to be distributed after dismissal (an odd practice that was common in the 1970s where I grew up as a “carrot” to keep people in the pews through the liturgy), as Communion is done in some places under current conditions. The only nod to the Lord’s entrance was the distribution of palms at the exit after dismissal. The liturgical directives from our archdiocese to encourage mindfulness of avoiding excessive time, presumably with an implied application to homilies, but nothing was expressly mentioned about omitting the unique opening rite for Palm Sunday.

    1. It sounds like the experience you described *was* the simple entrance which, considering the leeway given to replace the proper chant, amounts to Mass as usual.

      17. While the Priest proceeds to the altar, the Entrance Antiphon with its Psalm (no. 18) or another
      chant on the same theme is sung. Arriving at the altar, the Priest venerates it and goes to the
      chair. After the Sign of the Cross, he greets the people and continues the Mass in the usual way.

      1. We had nothing in alternative to the Entrance Antiphon. It was a music and antiphon free Mass, as it were. That’s why it stuck out.

  2. In the preconciliar calendar, the 5th Sunday of Lent was known as Passion Sunday, and Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion as Palm Sunday, pure and simple. In the same way that Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima fell out of the calendar of the pre-Lent period, to be replaced by Sundays in Ordinary Time (which also replaced Sundays after Epiphany), Passion Sunday also disappeared in the revision. However, the calendar reformers obviously felt unhappy about ditching it altogether, and so retained a vestige of it in the new title for Palm Sunday.

    For several years this caused confusion, with some referring to the Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week as Palm Sunday, others as Passion Sunday. Within a few years, the Passion part had died out, and we returned to referring to this Sunday as Palm Sunday, despite its official title in the liturgical books.

    The preconciliar Passion Sunday had no obvious connection to the Lord’s Passion, but a graded prelude into the austerity of Holy Week was evident — various rites were omitted (Prayers at the foot of the altar, Gloria Patri at the end of the Introit and the end of the Lavabo psalm, and the third Collect), and the Preface of the Cross was used from this day until Holy Thursday. Statues and processional crosses were veiled in many places (and still are in some).

    Palm Sunday has always had that bittersweet ambivalence between “Hosanna!” and “Crucify him!”. In Ireland, there may be no “Hosanna!” this year, but that is not the case elsewhere. This morning in many churches the second form (“Solemn Entrance”) took the place of the the usual Procession.

  3. One suggestion: Take advantage of the option of giving TWO brief homilies, as the Missal allows.
    The previous pastor at my parish did that with great success. It allowed for better focus on both “poles.” As this site has shown, two 60-second homilies can be quite effective.

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