With over a third of the world’s population ‘Christian’, Palm Sunday is an important holiday, ‘Holy Day’, for many. Palm Sunday celebrates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and kicks off Holy Week enthusiastically. It culminates the end of the Lenten season, being a week before Easter Sunday. Given the nature of the celebration and all its activities, is the Palm Sunday Mass longer than other Masses?
Palm Sunday Mass is longer than most Masses. The procession by the congregants waving palms before Mass, as well as reading two gospel passages instead of just one, add length to Palm Sunday Mass. Keep in mind that the Passion text read on Palm Sunday is the longest gospel reading of the year, too.
In this article, I describe what Palm Sunday is and its significance. I have also discussed how the church celebrates it and how that affects the length of the Palm Sunday Mass. To conclude, I will explain what happens to the palm branches used in Mass, both from the previous year and the current ones.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is a movable holiday. This means its date varies year to year, conditional on the date of the Lenten season and Easter, which in turn depend on the Lunar Calendar. Palm Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Lent, the one that comes before Easter. It is also called Passion Sunday or Fig Sunday.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. On this day, Jesus rode a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. His followers honored Him by spreading their robes and palm branches at his feet, and crying out “Hosanna.”
In addition to marking the start of the celebrations, Palm Sunday also heralds Holy Week, the week during which Jesus was betrayed, tried, and crucified. It carries with it an atmosphere of both rejoicing and sadness.
An important symbol of the celebration of Palm Sunday is the palm branches used.
The branch is a symbol of triumph, eternal life, peace, and victory. People walk a ‘procession’ in the same likeness as the original procession of Jesus’ day. As part of the procession, the people wave palm branches. And just like the crucifixion has reenactments, some parishes and churches celebrate by actually having a donkey parade through the procession, too.
My See and Say Missal (available on Amazon or at local Catholic shops) is made to help children understand the traditional Latin Mass such as that of Palm Sunday; however, many adults new to Latin Mass can benefit from the instructional missal (guide), too.
Because of the significance and propagation of palms, the US has palm tree farms that are devoted specifically to preparing for Palm Sunday. The farms supply fresh, trimmed palm branches just before Palm Sunday. If the parish or church cannot handle the responsibility of burning the palms, some suppliers are available to do that, too.
The farms are usually in warm weather climates like Texas and Florida. An example is Southeast Palm & Foliage in Florida.
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How is Palm Sunday Celebrated?
As Palm Sunday ushers in Holy Week, the Church reenacts some symbolic activities to remember the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Creating crosses out of palm fronds, waving palm branches, and singing ancient hymns, and walking in a procession are traditional Palm Sunday celebrations.
In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as among other Orthodox and Christian churches, palm fronds or substitutes used in colder climates (e.g, olives, yew, and box) are blessed with Holy Water by the priest or pastor. This may happen in the narthex or outside the church building. It is called the Blessing of the Palms.
Immediately after the Blessing of the Palms, the Palm procession occurs. It is a solemn procession of the entire congregation, either within the church premises by walking around the sanctuary or up and down church aisles, or outside through the streets of the city or around the church building and parking lot.
During Palm Sunday Mass, there are two gospel readings, whereas in regular Masses there is just one. The readings detail the original procession of Jesus into Jerusalem at Passover and his subsequent arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.
How Long Is Palm Sunday Mass?
Palm Sunday Mass lasts longer than normal Masses because of the added activities: the palm blessings, procession, and two gospel readings (the second gospel reading is the longest gospel text read in Mass). While typical Mass is about 45 minutes, Palm Sunday Mass can go 2 and half to even 3 hours.
As said, on average, this Mass lasts for 2 hours but if it’s a traditional Latin Mass (TLM), it can be 3 hours long due to the extensive recitations (and of course, it’s a range since the priests homilies are not prescribed and can be shorter or longer, depending on the priest and parish).
Palm Sunday also doubles as Passion Sunday. Palm branches feature in procession to commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry and the Passion is read, giving it a longer time than normal. The Mass also has two very contrasting moods.
It starts with a jubilant procession and joyful cheers of ‘Hosanna!’ We’ve even taken part in very celebratory marches around the building, waving the palms and singing outside. Then, there is the knocking on the chapel door too.
But then a shift occurs. In a little while, a somber mood replaces joy as details of Jesus’ sufferings are read from the gospels. These are the scourging of His back, His struggles to carry the cross, and His crucifixion.
There are two gospel readings during Palm Sunday Mass, unlike regular Masses that have just one gospel reading, making Palm Sunday Mass longer than usual.
The First Gospel Reading on Palm Sunday: The first gospel reading at the ‘Procession with Palms’ is taken from a gospel passage about when Jesus and his disciples are traveling into Jerusalem.
The Second Gospel Reading on Palm Sunday: The second gospel reading occurs during the ‘regular’ time of reading the gospel but is lengthier as it is the full Passion of the Lord. Keep in mind that the Passion text is the longest gospel text read all year during Mass, too.
The ‘Passion of the Lord’ is the phrasing that means from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to His death on the cross.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (available at Amazon) is one of the most acclaimed retellings of Jesus’ time from praying in Gethsemane to his resurrection after crucifixion, and it depicts the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem and the subsequent waving of the palms.
After Palm Sunday celebrations are over, Catholic parishioners have two options: either they leave the blessed palms in their church pews for the parish staff to collect, or they can take the blessed palms home. We’ll look at this more in the next section.
What To Do With Palm Sunday Branches
Since palms are blessed on Palm Sunday, this makes them sacramental. As such, there are specific ways to handle palm branches after they are used in Mass.
The handling of Palm Sunday branches is prescribed by the Church. They can be left in the pews or given to the ushers for the Church to properly dispose of or use sacramentally. Another option, popular with children especially, is to keep the branches and display them in your home.
According to the Code of Canon Law, you must treat blessed items, like the palms used on Palm Sunday, with reverence and respect, and not throw them in the trash. Praise God!
Thus, the Blessing of the Palms at Mass makes them sacramental. Such objects are meant to draw you closer to God. One way to dispose of such sacraments is to either burn them or bury them, according to the Church Magisterium.
If you take a blessed palm home, you can use it as a decoration, though.
Tuck it behind a portrait or simply place it in your Bible. Both options put them in your line of sight and they become constant reminders of all Christ’s victory and what it means to you. It is a great way to stay immersed in the Holy week, all-year-round.
In our family, we’ve always kept the palm branches after Palm Sunday Mass. Sometimes we’ve laid them on our home altar, giving them prominence along with our other blessed items like our family Crucifix, baptismal candles, and rosaries. Other times, we’ve twisted them into crosses, too, and displayed them on the same special table.
Did you know that the palms that are collected after Palm Sunday Mass, as well as any extras from Palm Sunday, are collected by the parish staff and burned to be used as the ashes for the next year’s Ash Wednesday service? How awesome is that tradition!
During Shrovetide, many churches keep a basket in the narthex for the palm branches from Holy Week that were blessed and distributed on the previous Palm Sunday Mass, as well. Churches burn these palms on Shrove Tuesday in order to make the ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. So in this way, palms from one year are put to use in the next year.
Yet, for non-Catholic Christian churches, the tradition of using palm branches and the use of the palm fronds may be different.
For instance, one person who grew up in an Anglican household, told me they don’t remember saving the palm fronds. And personally, I have a Pentecostal/Baptist childhood and we didn’t use any palm branches on Palm Sunday!
Regardless of palm branches and fronds, Holy week is probably the most sacred week of all celebrations for Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
The very foundation of Christian belief hinges on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Reenacting the activities and experiences of Jesus during the last phase of His journey is a visceral reminder of what it means to profess the Christian faith, so Palm Sunday is highlighted in Christianity.
Palm Sunday is sacred; it is beautiful, and it is worth every extra minute spent celebrating it in Mass, in my humble Catholic opinion.
Using Palm Sunday Branches On Palm Sunday
To be clear, in the Catholic tradition of Palm Sunday, at the beginning of Mass, congregants pick up a palm branch. In my experience at several different parishes on Palm Sunday, sometimes I’ve gotten the palm branch in the narthex or vestibule before walking into the sanctuary. Other times, an usher has passed out branches after entering the sanctuary.
Most parishes hold a special blessing of the branches the night before Palm Sunday Mass, called a vigil mass. However, some parishes do this blessing on the first Palm Sunday Mass on that Sunday morning.
Once you get your branch, though, congregants walk around waving the palm branches prior to Mass at the behest of the priest.
Crafts For Your Palm Sunday Branches After Mass
Because it’s popular to keep the palm branch, many families have learned crafts to make with the branch, keeping it special. Some crafts are to twist the branch into a cross and I’ve seen others that have you twist the branch into an ornamental braid.
Regardless, if you choose to keep the palm branch after Mass, you must not desecrate it.
Palm Branches have been blessed and must be treated as sacramentals. This means you can display it on a special table in your house (like our family does) or you can hang it on a wall or behind a special photo. It’s not an idol; it’s a reminder of what Christ did for us.
However you choose to display your palm branch, the important thing is to not let it come to harm. You can always return it to the Church parish if you aren’t able to display it properly.
Wrapping Up Is Palm Sunday Mass Longer Than Other Masses
To wrap it up, yes, Palm Sunday Mass is longer than other typical Masses. It’s longer because it includes a procession at the beginning with the waving of palm branches (as well as sometimes a ‘blessing of the palms’) and two gospel readings instead of just one as in most Masses.
Typical Masses range from 45 minutes to an hour, whereas Palm Sunday Mass is often as long as two hours for a Novus Ordo (‘regular’ Mass) Mass and three hours for a traditional Latin Mass.
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