CHRISTIANS in Zimbabwe today join fellow believers across the world in observing Palm Sunday – one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.
While most Christian denominations solemnise this day, Roman Catholics take it further, celebrating it with long processions, waving palm branches and singing victory songs.
Palm Sunday – which marks the beginning of the Holy Week in the Catholic liturgical calendar – has its origins in the palm branches lifted high for Jesus Christ upon His triumphal entry into Jerusalem ahead of his crucifixion.
So significant is this event that it is one of the few in the life of Jesus Christ covered in all four Gospels.
Prior to his arrival in Jerusalem from Bethphage and the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples ahead of him to bring back a young donkey they would find tied to a tree along.
Some of the disciples placed their coats on the colt for Jesus to sit on, while others spread theirs in his path.
In those days, a king riding a horse symbolised war while one riding a donkey symbolised peace.
A massive crowd welcomed Jesus, lining His way with cloaks while waving palm branches as children borrowed from Psalm 118 and sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the Kingdom of our Father David that is coming! Hosanna in the Highest.”
At last year’s Palm Sunday mass at Vatican City, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis, said, “The crowds in Jerusalem joyfully welcomed Jesus and we have made that enthusiasm our own: by waving our olive and palm branches, we have expressed our desire to receive Jesus who comes to us.”
He added that just as nothing could prevent the crowd’s enthusiasm for Jesus’ entry, nothing should prevent Christians from finding in Him the source of joy.
On Palm Sunday, Catholics gather and then march to their church.
Before the procession starts, a priest sprinkles Holy water on palm branches to consecrate them, and altar servers distribute them to parishioners.
Where palms are not available, people use reeds or other aquatic plants.
The priest and altar servers head the procession as a choir leads in the singing of “Hosanna” and other victory songs.
At the church, the normal order of mass proceeds. The sermon on this day is the Passion Reading, and it can be recited by chosen individuals who read out words spoken by different characters as recorded in the Gospels.
After, mass, parishioners can take the palm branches – which are usually fashioned into devotional items like the cross – to their homes. These are often hung on walls and may be returned to the church to be burnt for ashes that will be used on the following year’s Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent and leads to another Palm Sunday.
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