Palm Sunday: Table of Contents
- Biblical Roots
- Palm Sunday Scripture
- Music and Psalms
- All About the Palm Sunday Liturgy/Service
- Papal Mass on Palm Sunday
- Palm Sunday Prayers
- Palm Sunday in Other Faith Traditions
- Palm Sunday FAQ
The final Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday represents an important day in Christian worship traditions spanning Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions.
In the Catholic Church, Palm Sunday represents the sixth Sunday of Lent and marks the beginning of Holy Week.
It’s a unique, beautiful liturgy that sets the stage for Easter Triduum and traces its inspiration back to the Gospels.
Biblical Roots of Palm Sunday
John’s Gospel tells us the story of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem as Passover approached.
On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out:
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,
[even] the king of Israel.”John 12:12-13
When the Gospel makes mention of Jesus riding on a colt or ass, it fulfills the prophecy from Zachariah:
Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.Zechariah 9:9
As Jesus prepared to celebrate Passover, we celebrate Palm Sunday as we prepare for Easter. In 2023, as in all years, Palm Sunday occurs one week before Easter.
Palm Sunday Scriptures
The USCCB formally refers to Palm Sunday as “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” because it’s the day we first hear the Passion reading.
We will hear it again on Good Friday but from a different Gospel.
In 2023, Palm Sunday will feature the Gospel of Matthew, while Good Friday will allow us to hear the Gospel according to John.
The Gospel we hear at the start of Mass, which describes Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem, also rotates with the liturgical cycles.(In 2023, the Church is in the lectionary cycle of Year A.
Music, Psalm and Songs
At the start of the Palm Sunday liturgy, the first hymn song usually proclaims “Hosanna” (a word of divine praise that we see in John’s Gospel) as seen in these YouTube videos of Catholic liturgies.
The Responsorial Psalm typically comes from Psalm 22 and features the familiar response, “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me?”
Offertory hymns and songs during the Eucharist vary greatly from parish to parish. “Were You There”–a song which depicts Jesus’s crucifixion–is one you might hear during Communion. ”What Wondrous Love Is This” represents another common hymn.
A popular Palm Sunday recessional hymn is “Lift High the Cross.”
Given that Palm Sunday falls within Lent, music will not feature “Alleluia.”
Palm Sunday Mass and What Makes It Unique
The Scriptures and songs are just some of the components of the Palm Sunday liturgy that makes it unique.
Churches distribute palms at the start of the service, and often, churchgoers file into the pews as usual. The priest then calls the parishioners to either the back of the church or the vestibule, where the first Gospel is read.
Following that passage, parishioners wave palms as the priest continues into the church as the congregation sings.
Not your normal Sunday processional!
The palms will later form the ashes distributed on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent the following year.
Palm Sunday is the only Sunday (and the only Mass) featuring the Lord’s Passion and is one of the only liturgies where the priest wears red vestments.
It’s a beautiful, engaging worship experience that prepares us for the Easter Triduum, a time filled with unique liturgies.
The Pope and the Papal Mass
On Palm Sunday, as on other important days in the liturgical year, the Pope traditionally delivers a homily in St. Peter’s Square.
The liturgy is usually posted to the Vatican’s YouTube channel so people around the world can watch it.
In his homily during Palm Sunday 2022, Pope Francis emphasized a message of forgiveness as the Church approached Easter.
“Brothers and sisters, in the course of this week, let us cling to the certainty that God can forgive every sin. He forgives everyone. He can bridge every distance, and turn all mourning into dancing,” he said, referencing Psalm 30.
Palm Sunday Prayers
Palm Sunday prayers can acknowledge Jesus’s triumph, as when crowds celebrated Him at Jerusalem, as well as His sacrifice, which we remember during the reading of the Passion.
Consider these short prayers:
“God, You are indeed King of Kings and I am blessed by Your love and mercy. May my day today be guided by Your spirit and may I approach any obstacles knowing that my life and our world all belong to Your kingdom. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.”
“Heavenly Father, crowds cheered and welcomed Jesus and later yelled for his crucifixion. I try to honor and celebrate You, but I know there are areas of my life where I reject or ignore You. Today, give me the strength to sing Your praises at times I might otherwise dishonor You. Amen.”
For more ideas on how to pray on Palm Sunday, check out our Lent prayers.
Palm Sunday in Other Faith Traditions
Many Christian faith traditions observe Palm Sunday.
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America describes Palm Sunday as the “commemoration of the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem following His glorious miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church observes Palm Sunday, as do many other Lutheran and Methodist churches, some of whom refer to the day as “Passion Sunday.”
Frequently Asked Questions about Palm Sunday
At Palm Sunday, churchgoers receive palms, hear The Passion and prepare for Holy Week.
Palms commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as Scripture (John 12:13) tells us the crowd welcomed Him by waving palms.
The palms distributed on Palm Sunday will form the ashes distributed on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent the following year.
Palm Sunday is an important day in the Catholic faith, but other Christian religions also recognize the day.
Some people choose to turn their palm leaves into crosses as a reminder of the meaning of the day, but it’s not required. Keeping the palm leaves straight is totally fine.
In 2023, Palm Sunday is April 2.
In 2023, Orthodox Palm Sunday falls on April 9.
Red is the color of Palm Sunday. It symbolizes the blood of Jesus.