Palm Sunday: Christians enter Holy Week, recall Passion of Jesus

Main aisle of church with palms

Churchgoers on Palm Sunday in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 14: With Easter on the horizon and the Passion of Jesus at hand, Western Christians begin preparations for the pivotal week to come on Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’s ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, and according to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path.

EASTERN CHRISTIANS will mark Palm Sunday one week later, on April 21, in 2019.

THE PALM BRANCH: A MULTI-FACETED SYMBOL

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branch symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Every  year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips:

Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from U.S. Catholic.org, YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

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Categories: Christian

Palm Sunday: Christians begin Holy Week with fronds and Jesus’ Jerusalem entry

Sunlight through palm fronds on tree

Palm fronds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 9: Christians around the world enter Holy Week in preparation for Easter on Palm Sunday, marked by the ancient story of Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. Biblical accounts and artists through the centuries describe overjoyed people in the streets of Jerusalem celebrating Jesus’s entry by throwing down of cloaks and palm branches in his path, in imitation of a custom used only for those of highest honor. Described in all four Gospels, Jesus’ ride was a popular event. Yet how quickly events will turn within a week, Christians recall today, amid the waving fronds.

As Jesus rode slowly into Jerusalem, according to Christian tradition, the gathered crowd began singing from Psalms: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Today, Christians regard this entry as the fulfillment of a prediction in Zacharias; as such, many churches distribute their own fresh palm branches. In climates where palm branches aren’t available, other tree branches—yew, box and willow, for example—may be distributed instead. A church-wide procession often follows the blessing of the branches.

What happens to those branches after they’re distributed? In many congregations, members save them in their homes. Traditional Catholics tend to tuck them behind a crucifix. Some countries pride themselves on the historical tradition of tying elaborate shapes with the fresh palms. In Mexico and Italy, especially, many will weave the palms into elaborate patterns and shapes and hang them above holy pictures, behind a crucifix or on the wall.  In Elche, Spain—the site of the largest palm grove in Europe—palm leaves whitened and dried, after which skilled craftsmen braid them into extravagant shapes and figures.

Interested in braiding your own palm fronds? Learn how, with help from this YouTube video tutorial.

In many churches, the branches from today’s services are saved until the next year’s Ash Wednesday, when they are burned as a source of ashes.

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Categories: Christian

Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem

Children walking down aisle, palm fronds held by church members, bishop in background

Palm Sunday 2014 at Westminster Cathedral. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MARCH 29: With Easter just one week away, Western Christians (Catholic and Protestant) begin preparations for the pivotal week to come. The liturgical calendar for Eastern Orthodox Christians is a week later for this season.

Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, the feast commemorating Jesus’ ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. (Eastern Christians mark Palm Sunday on April 5, this year.) According to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.)

THE PALM BRANCH: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branche symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. (Wikipedia has details.) In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Palms waving on Palm SundayEvery  year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips: Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from U.S. Catholic.org, YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

Did you know? Aside from palm braiding, Palm Sunday is sometimes considered a customary time to eat figs, in light of Jesus’s interaction with a fig tree after his entry into Jerusalem. In addition, Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are considered the ideal time to thoroughly clean the home, so that Thursday, Friday and Saturday may be set aside to focus on Christ’s passion and the home may be spotless for Easter.

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Categories: Christian

Palm Sunday and Holy Week: Christians repent during final days of Lent

Jesus on cross in shadow and monochrome

Photo by Jes, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, APRIL 13: Western and Eastern Palm Sunday—In Western Christian tradition, Lent continues into Holy Week and Palm Sunday marks the ironic celebration of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion; but in Eastern tradition, Great Lent is over and Holy Week begins with the Great Feast of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.

THURSDAY, APRIL 17: Western and Eastern Holy Thursday (in some traditions “Maundy Thursday”)—Both East and West recall Jesus’s Last Supper, but use different terms to describe elements of this day. For Western Christians, for example, talk about this day ushering in the Triduum, or “three days” of Easter.

FRIDAY, APRIL 18: Western Good Friday; Eastern Great and Holy Friday.
Both traditions mourn Jesus’s death on the cross, but with distinctive rituals. Eastern Christians will see the removal of an iconic representation of Jesus’s body from a cross in the church; Western Christians typically follow the Stations of the Cross (artistic representations of Jesus’s final days on earth) on Good Friday.

SATURDAY, APRIL 19: Western Holy Saturday; Eastern Great and Holy Saturday. In Eastern and Western traditions, Holy Saturday is a period of waiting for Easter (or Pascha in Eastern churches). While some Western Christians celebrate Easter with a Mass on “Saturday night;” ancient Eastern liturgies focus much more extensively on the Saturday night vigil, followed by a huge celebration of Pascha after midnight that same night. Across the United States, millions of Americans will mark Easter on the morning Sunday April 20; but many Eastern Christians will be at home that morning after a long night of liturgies.

PALM SUNDAY IN MOST CHURCHES

Palm fronds growing wild

Palm fronds. Photo by Les Chatfield, courtesy of Flickr

Palm Sunday and Easter both draw big crowds in churches coast to coast and, for most Americans, Palm Sunday is marked with palm fronds distributed to recall the crowds that waved branches on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

All four Gospels detail Jesus’ entry into the holy city. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people swarmed his path and laid their garments and palm branches on the roadway. (Wikipedia has many more details.)

During the Catholic Mass on this holiday, palms—or the branches of available trees, given the church’s location and climate—are blessed, and a procession of congregation members takes place.

After leaving church, the faithful bring their blessed palm fronds home and, as is custom, hang them near crucifixes or holy pictures. In Italy and Mexico, pride is taken in the art of braiding and shaping palm fronds into stunning figures and shapes. (Fold palms into the shape of a cross with help from this YouTube video. Advanced weavers can check out this video, as well.) In most regions of the world, these carefully saved palm branches will remain intact until the following year’s Ash Wednesday—at which time Christian tradition holds that old palm branches should be burned to make ashes.

For the three days of Holy Week preceding the Holy Triduum, houses are cleaned to make time for the proper observation of the quickly approaching Passion and Resurrection.

MAUNDY OR HOLY THURSDAY

Priest bent over, washing feet of people sitting in a line of chairs

The term Maundy derives from the Latin ‘to command,’ referring to Jesus’ command to the disciples that they love one another, announced when he washed their feet. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

According to Christian tradition, the Last Supper that Jesus held on this night before his death was the establishment of the Eucharist—the foundation of the Christian sacrament shared by more than 2 billion Christians around the world. Even though specific liturgical customs do vary between the branches of this worldwide faith, the basic sacred tradition stems from the Gospel verses describing Jesus’s last meal with his followers. The New Testament also describes Jesus washing the feet of his followers on this night, so foot washing also widely practiced on Maundy or Holy Thursday.

What does Maundy mean? Wikipedia has an extensive article about the use of this term, which varies widely country by country. Some denominations prefer the term for this Thursday; some never use it—and others use the terms Maundy and Holy interchangeably. Confusing? Yes, it certainly is. But you’ll have a great bit of trivia to share with friends and family if you know what “Maundy” means. According to Wikipedia’s summary:

Most scholars agree that the English word Maundy is derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you”), the statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John 13:34 by which Jesus explained to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet.

As Jesus and his disciples left their upper room, they traveled out of the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Garden of Gethsemane. Before sunrise, Jesus would be betrayed and the events of Good Friday would begin.

Each Maundy Thursday in the Catholic church, a daytime Chrism Mass takes place and a new stock of holy oil is blessed. Following the evening liturgy, the holy water is removed from all stoups—and all hangings and vestments are changed to black (or another Lenten color). Bells will remain silent until Saturday evening’s Easter Vigil.

GOOD FRIDAY:
PASSION PLAYS, STATIONS OF THE CROSS

Three crucifixes stand with three actors hanging from them, portraying the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. A crowd watches

A Passion play, reenacting the crucifixion, takes place in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday. Photo courtesy of Geograph.org

The day laden with darkness and lamentation has arrived, as Christians recall the somber events of Good Friday—Jesus’s death on a Roman cross. Between two criminals sentenced to death by Roman authorities, Jesus hung on a crucifix for six excruciating hours. During the last three hours, Gospels account that darkness fell over the land; at approximately 3 p.m., Jesus gave up his spirit and died. Such dramatic natural events occurred that the centurion on guard at the site of the crucifixion announced, “Truly this was God’s Son!”

In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a strict fast day: only one full meal or two small meals is permitted, and the faithful abstain from meat and joyful activities. Many gather at church to pray the Stations of the Cross, painfully recalling each step on Jesus’ path to the crucifixion site. Some devotees attend a prayer service known as the Three Hours’ Agony, and it’s not uncommon for Passion plays and processions to reenact the day’s events. (Wikipedia has details.) In Rome, the Pope or Vatican representatives will lead meditations on the Stations of the Cross while a crucifix is carried to the Colosseum. Good Friday is a public or government holiday in many countries of the world, and the stock market is closed.

By tradition dating to 1361 CE, currant-filled, glazed hot cross buns are eaten for breakfast on Good Friday morning. The glaze forms a cross on the bun, signifying the day’s focus. (You can find a wonderful hot cross bun recipe in Lynne Meredith Golodner’s book The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.)

HOLY SATURDAY:
DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

A candle burns in a dimly lit cathedral

A candle burns at St. Anne’s Church in Krakow on Holy Saturday. Photo by Marcin Bunsch, courtesy of Flickr

Terms and traditions for this Saturday vary widely across Christianity. For millions of American Protestants, this Saturday is simply a good occasion to clean the house and prepare treats for Easter dinner. Very little is said about this day in the vast majority of mainline Protestant and evangelical churches. However, Holy Saturday liturgies are ancient traditions in the Catholic church, Orthodox churches and others around the world.

In the Gospel stories, Holy Saturday recalls Jesus’s body laying in a tomb. Wikipedia’s account of Holy Saturday points out that this occasion is known by many names, including: Holy Saturday, the Great Sabbath, Black Saturday, Easter Eve, Joyous Saturday and the Saturday of Light.

In Eastern tradition, one of the most beautiful and unusual of icons is used in Saturday liturgies, called the Epitaphios. This icon is made of fabric and represents a kind of burial shroud, showing Jesus’s body being prepared for burial. On “Great and Holy Saturday,” the Epitaphios is carried in a procession around the church.

American holiday travelers always watch headlines about possible congestion or delays, as the Easter holiday approaches. But travel challenges may be even greater in the Philippines, where the population is more than 80 percent Roman Catholic. Headlines in Filipino newspapers began reporting, weeks early, on efforts to make the holiday migration to hometowns move smoothly. One of the big efforts in Manila this year involves inspecting the safety and cleanliness of the bus fleets that soon will be packed with holiday travelers.

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Categories: ChristianInternational Observances

Millions of Orthodox Christians enter Holy Week

An Orthodox interpretation of the waking of Lazarus from the dead. Photo in public domain

An Orthodox interpretation of the waking of Lazarus from the dead. Photo in public domain

SATURDAY, APRIL 27 AND SUNDAY, APRIL 28: Easter may be past for Western Christians, but the Eastern Orthodox Church is just heading into Holy Week with Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday. Traditionally, Lazarus Saturday is the day when hermits would temporarily leave their ascetic lifestyle behind, traveling to a local monastery for Holy Week services. Today, the Russian Church utilizes green vestments and church hangings for the weekend, symbolizing the renewal of life, while members of the Greek Church weave elaborate crosses from their Palm Sunday palms.

LAZARUS SATURDAY: FORESHADOWING RESURRECTION

Throughout the week leading up to Lazarus Saturday, hymns in the Orthodox Lenten Triodion detail the sickness and eventual death of Lazarus. According to the Gospel of John, the sisters of Lazarus write to Jesus as his sickness progresses; Jesus writes back, reassuring the sisters that the illness will not lead to death. Yet by the time Jesus arrives to see Lazarus, he has been in a tomb for four days. (Learn more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) As his family and friends weep, Jesus displays his full humanity by weeping with them. Then, he demands the stone be removed from the cave, and turns his face toward heaven for a conversation with his Father. Displaying his full divinity, Jesus commands, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus emerges from the tomb, still wrapped in burial cloths. This traditional story is recalled in Orthodox communities worldwide. (Wikipedia has details.) For the disciples, this was a reassurance that Jesus would ultimately triumph through the coming Passion with Resurrection.

Although Lent has officially ended, most Orthodox Christians continue to fast, with permission now to add wine and oil. Russians customarily eat caviar today, while Greeks bake spice breads known as Lazarakia.

PALM SUNDAY: THE FULFILLMENT OF A PROPHECY

Now, the traditional story shifts for millions of Orthodox families: Liturgy and readings recall how, surrounded by clamoring crowds, Jesus rides into Jerusalem in triumph. After having awoken Lazarus, Jesus is seen as the one named in the prophecies of the Old Testament: the Son of David, the King who has come. The crowds lay branches before Jesus, in an act that is mimicked in churches to this day. (Read more from the Orthodox Church in America.)

The feast of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem is one of the 12 major feasts of the Eastern Orthodox year.

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Categories: Christian