Passion Sunday

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Passion Sunday

Black Sunday, Care Sunday, Carling Sunday,
Judica Sunday, Quiet Sunday, Silent Sunday

Christians use the word "passion" to describe the suffering endured by Jesus during the last few days of his life, especially the Crucifixion (see also Cross). This usage harks back to the origins of the word. Although we associate the English word passion with strong emotion, it in fact comes from the Latin passio, which means "suffering." In past times the fifth Sunday in Lent was known as Passion Sunday. This name came from one of the Bible readings assigned to that day in Roman Catholic churches, which compared the animal sacrifices made by ancient Jewish priests with Jesus' sacrifice of his own life (Hebrews 9:12-15). This reading reminded the congregation of Jesus' sacrificial death, to be commemorated the following week on Good Friday. Indeed, Passion Sunday inaugurated a special season within Lent known as Passiontide. During Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, church services turned towards the consideration of Jesus'last days on earth.

Throughout the first four weeks of Lent clergy members exhorted worshipers to reflect on their own relationship with God. By contrast, during Passiontide church services encouraged the faithful to meditate on the Passion story. Several Passiontide customs marked this change of direction. The Gloria, a hymn proclaiming God's glory, was omitted from worship services during Passiontide. This omission symbolized the fact that during his last days on earth Jesus was not glorified by those he sought to teach, but rather tormented and abandoned.

A custom known as veiling also helped to set the mood of Passiontide. Veils, or lengths of cloth, were cast over crucifixes, sculptures, and religious images in churches. These veils were purple, in keeping with the system of liturgical colors that governs the hue of priests' robes and church decorations throughout the year in Roman Catholic churches. Purple represents repentance in this system of church color symbolism. Some evidence suggests, however, that before the sixteenth century red, a color associated with martyrdom, may have served as the liturgical color of Passiontide. Some writers believe that the practice of veiling evolved from the last line of the Gospel reading assigned to the fifth Sunday in Lent. Gospel readings come from the section of the Christian Bible that tells the story of Jesus' life. The Gospel reading assigned to this Sunday declares that after a dispute with religious authorities Jesus left the temple and hid himself (John 8:59). Some writers suggest that the custom of veiling provided a visual representation of Jesus'disappearance. Crucifixes were unveiled on Good Friday, sculptures and other religious images during the late-night Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

The customs associated with Passion Sunday inspired a number of folk names for the observance. In northern England Passion Sunday was called "Carling Sunday" from the custom of consuming carlings, or parched peas, on that day. In past times innkeepers often provided free carlings to their customers on Passion Sunday and housewives fried carlings in butter at home. The name "Care Sunday" may also have evolved from this practice, which died out in the twentieth century. Others suspect the name Care Sunday refers to cares, or sorrows, of Jesus, which are commemorated during Passiontide. The Germans called the day "Black Sunday " in reference to the custom of veiling religious images. In Slavic countries the fifth Sunday in Lent was known as "Silent Sunday" or "Quiet Sunday." Others called the day "Judica Sunday" in reference to the first line of the opening prayer, or introit, assigned to that Sunday's mass (for more on the Roman Catholic religious service known as the mass, see also Eucharist). In Latin it read Judica me, Deus, which means, "Judge me, God."

Passion Sunday and Passiontide were observed by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and others who followed the church calendar rooted in Roman Catholic tradition. Orthodox and other Eastern Christians did not share this observance. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church discontinued the celebration of Passion Sunday and Passiontide. Church officials changed the Bible readings assigned to the fifth Sunday in Lent and shifted the consideration of Christ's passion to Holy Week. Holy Week begins on the sixth Sunday in Lent, known to many as Palm Sunday. Although the name Palm Sunday is still widely used, Roman Catholic officials now prefer to call the sixth Sunday in Lent "Passion Sunday."

Further Reading

Alston, G. Cyprian. "Judica Sunday." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: Cowie, L. W., and John Selwyn Gummer. The Christian Calendar. Springfield, MA: G. and C. Merriam, 1974. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. Niemann, Paul J. The Lent, Triduum, and Easter Answer Book. San Jose, CA: Resource Publications, 1998. "Passion, The." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. "Passion Sunday." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Chris- tian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. "Passiontide." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Slim, Hugo. A Feast of Festivals. London, England: Marshall Pickering, 1996. Urlin, Ethel. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Between March 15 and April 18 in the West; between March 28 and May 1 in the East; the Sunday preceding Easter
Where Celebrated: British Isles, Europe, United States, Mexico, Latin America, Scandinavia, and by Christians all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Palm Branches
Colors: Purple or violet is used throughout Holy Week to symbolize the passion or suffering of Christ.
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Good Friday, Lent, Maundy Thursday


Palm Sunday is a Chistian holiday that celebrates Jesus' return to Jerusalem. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word Palm Sunday

meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, where he received a hero's welcome from the people who had heard about the miracles he'd performed and regarded him as the leader who would deliver them from the domination of the Roman Empire. He rode into the city on an ass, and the people greeted him by waving PALM BRANCHES and strewing them in his path, shouting, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12: 12, 13).

Although Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, later events proved that his popularity was largely superficial. The city was already filled with holiday pilgrims because it was the Jewish feast of PASSOVER, and it is likely that Jesus deliberately chose this time so that his final showdown with the Jewish authorities would take place in front of as many people as possible. The happy crowd of pilgrims, many of whom probably knew Jesus as a popular rabbi, made a special event of his arrival, cheering and throwing down palm branches for him to ride over.

As a Christian observance, Palm Sunday dates back to the tenth century. But the persistence of ancient folk beliefs about the power of palm branches would seem to indicate a link with much earlier celebrations. At one time it was customary to use a wooden ass mounted on wheels with a human figure riding on it to represent Jesus. As soon as the ass passed over the willow or palm branches that had been strewn on the ground, people would rush to gather them up because they were regarded as protection against storms and lightning. Crosses made of woven palm were a popular charm against disease.

Probably the greatest present-day observance of Palm Sunday takes place in Rome, where the Pope, carried in St. Peter's Chair on the shoulders of eight men, comes out of St. Peter's Basilica to bless the palms. After the service, golden palm branches are distributed among the clergy and olive branches, a symbol of spiritual anointing, are given to the congregation. Then the thousands of worshippers who have gathered in St. Peter's Square march through the basilica and around the portico, emerging from one door and reentering through another to symbolize the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Some of the palm branches are saved and later burned to make ashes for the following year's ASH WEDNESDAY.


Palm Branches

The palm branch is a symbol of victory and a sign of reverence. In Europe, where palm branches are hard to find, branches of box, yew, or willow are often carried in procession on Palm Sunday to commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

After the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Henry VII declared that carrying palms on Palm Sunday was a custom that should be maintained. By the nineteenth century in many parts of England, it was customary for young people to go "a-palming" on the Saturday before Palm Sunday-in other words, to go into the woods and gather willow twigs (in the absence of palms) and return with armloads of cuttings as well as sprigs of willow in their hats or buttonholes. Like the palm branches, the willow cuttings were collected and burned, and the ashes were set aside for the following ASH WEDNESDAY.

The belief that palm branches offered protection from disease and natural disasters can still be seen in the customs of some European countries. In Austria and the Bavarian region of Germany, for example, farmers make Palmbuschen by attaching holly leaves, willow boughs, and cedar twigs to the top of long poles. After these have been blessed in the local church on Palm Sunday, farmers set them up in their fields or barns to ward off illness and to protect their crops from hail and drought.

In the Netherlands, the Palmpaas is a stick to which a hoop has been attached. The hoop is covered with boxwood and decorated with paper flags, eggshells, sugar rings, oranges, figs, raisins, and chocolate eggs. Sometimes there is a figure of a swan or a cock on the top, made from baked dough. It is generally believed that the Palmpaas was originally a fertility symbol representing the arrival of spring and the resurgence of life after the long winter. Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday in Italy, the piazzas in front of most small churches are filled with people dressed up in new spring clothes and with vendors selling olive and palm branches. The olive branches may be gilded or painted silver, and the palms are often braided into crosses and decorated with roses, lilies, or other flowers. After the palms have been blessed in the church, they are often exchanged as peace offerings or as a sign of reconciliation between those who have quarreled.

In Czechoslovakia, the priests bless pussy willows. Farmers wave the willow branches over their fields of grain to protect them from hail or violent rainstorms. Sometimes pussy willow branches are placed on the roof to protect the house from fire.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Metford, J.C.J. The Christian Year. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Monks, James L. Great Catholic Festivals. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951. Pike, Royston. Round the Year with the World's Religions. 1950. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.


Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009
References in periodicals archive ?
FROM PASSION SUNDAY TO EASTER SUNDAY, WE MAP THE curious trail from human glory to heavenly glory.
Rome--Jewish leaders in Italy, Israel and the United States protested a Passion Sunday sermon by Pope Paul VI in which, they charged, he revived the image of Jews as Christ-killers.
On this Passion Sunday, the Jesus portrayed in John is calmly aware of the events that await him.
He hit the headlines two years ago by ringing the bell during a Villa match scheduled for Passion Sunday morning in complaint at the way free access to worship was being compromised for local congregations.
Her request for an audience was denied, and she was only able to write the Pope (who later did issue an encyclical condemning Nazi racism, Mit Brennender Sorge, which was read in German churches on Passion Sunday 1937).
\PAISLEY ABBEY Services for Palm/ Passion Sunday are 11am, morning service, 12.15 pm Holy Communion and 7.30pm Compline.
Also called Passion Sunday, today recalls Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey, where he was welcomed like a king by a crowd who laid palm leaves on his path while singing Hosanna, a Hebrew word that means praise or joy.
Known by various other names such as Passion Sunday, Willow Sunday and Flower Sunday, the day commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Manila, Philippines The Catholic Church begins the observance of Passion Week today, Passion Sunday and the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
* St James' Holy Communion for Passion Sunday was led by Rev Robins Townsend, assisted by Raymond Denton.
Passion Sunday AT school our chemistry teacher was a man of few words.
Whether it's called Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday in a given congregation, worship planners are challenged with how to approach the robust narrative of Christ's Passion.