Palm Sunday (Year B)

From the heights of a triumphant kingly procession to the silence of death in a borrowed tomb - this is Holy Week in miniature.


Gospel: Mark 11:1-10

  • Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey or a colt. In the ancient world, this was a sign of peace and triumph. Entering a city on a horse meant being armed and ready to fight. To come instead on a donkey was a sign that the battle was won.
  • You might like to reflect on how readily the people of Jerusalem recognised Jesus as the Son of David and how quickly that recognition turned to condemnation and the choosing of Barabbas over Jesus. In our lives, we know how changeable we can be and how easy it is to go with the crowd.

First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7

  • This passage from Isaiah gives some wonderful words to describe the life of a disciple: ‘The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.’ In our life of discipleship, do we listen to the Lord each morning, and do we use our disciple’s tongue to speak to the weary?
  • There is an interesting dynamic in this reading. Count the number of times that ‘I’ appears and the number of times the Lord acts. There is a cooperation between Isaiah’s action and the Lord’s action, but the Lord enables and helps. How does this become a reality in our lives of discipleship?

Psalm: Psalm 21(22):8-9,17-20,23-24

  • This famous psalm, which Jesus quoted from the cross, is seen as one of the great messianic psalms; it poetically speaks of the sufferings of Jesus. But, it is also a psalm we take upon our lips, as we do at today’s Mass. How does this help us unite our own sufferings to those of Jesus?
  • Notice how the psalmist feels empowered to speak directly and forcefully to God: ‘do not leave me alone’ and ‘make haste to help me.’ There can be a boldness and a directness in prayer, which reflects the depth of our need and the honesty of our relationship with God. Is this kind of directness part of our own prayer life?

Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11

  • This great canticle, which appears in the Liturgy of the Hours, is one of the oldest hymns of the Christian community. It probably predates Paul himself, and he is here quoting a song well-known and loved by the Philippian church. Many scholars believe that Paul added the line: ‘death on a cross’ to the pre-existing poem. What does this indicate to you about Paul’s purpose in quoting this song?
  • Read over the canticle again and try to trace the logic of it; it begins with a recognition of Jesus’ divinity as the Son, then moves to his Incarnation as a human being, and then goes further to reflect on his death by crucifixion. This movement is a downward spiral, even to death on a cross. J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term ‘eucatastrophe’ – the moment when all hope seems lost, then the tables turn – and here we have an example of one. From the depths of death, the canticle moves upwards again to Jesus being raised from death and glorified and worshipped as Lord to the glory of God the Father. How does this motivate us in our worship of Jesus?

Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47

  • This presents the entire narrative of the Passion, concluding before the Resurrection.
  • In light of the second reading from Philippians, which brings us back up from the moment of catastrophe in death to the moment of eucatastrophe in resurrection, how can we see hope in this Passion narrative?


So we finally come to this final week of Lent, which we call ‘Holy Week’ – the week commemorates Jesus’ final days, culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection.

Today we mark the moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration, as we heard at the start of Mass. The Passover was a defining moment in the story of God’s people in the Old Testament, one which they were commanded to celebrate annually. The place for that celebration was Jerusalem – the place of God’s temple. Jesus and his disciples, observant to the covenant laws, arrived in Jerusalem ahead of the solemn festival.

Jesus, though, wanted to enter Jerusalem in a particular way. He told his disciples to go to a certain man and borrow his donkey. Jesus would ride that into the city. Have a look at these words from the prophet Zechariah:

‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zechariah 9:9)

By entering the city on a donkey, Jesus was announcing his identity as the king for whom they had waited so long. In the context of the ancient world, if you rode into the city on a horse, you were usually at the head of an army. A donkey? That was a sign of peace. This was the kind of Messiah, the kind of king, that Jesus had come to be. He was the king whom the magi recognised him to be right back at the time of his birth.

The people responded by waving palm branches and throwing them ahead of Jesus to pave his way; this was a triumphant procession, the procession of the Messiah King into the midst of his people, and they received him as such. They shouted: ‘Hosanna to the son of David!’ – just as God had promised, the line and throne of David would never fail. We, too, take that cry on our lips at each Mass: ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!’

Jesus, we recognise today, is King. He is Lord. He reigns, rules, and is the promised Messiah and Son of David. But a shadow hangs over this triumphant procession.

Once the joy of waving palms for our King has subsided, we may notice that our palm branch has been twisted into the shape of a cross. Then we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard’ and the mournful lament of Psalm 22: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. After Paul reminds us of Jesus’ humility and death, even on a cross, we stand to hear the whole narrative at length from Mark’s gospel.

What a journey this Mass takes us on! From the heights of a triumphant kingly procession to the silence of death in a borrowed tomb, this Mass is nothing less than Holy Week in miniature.

What, though, are we to make of it? Why didn’t the Church just give us the first gospel passage and save the Passion for Good Friday only?

We are presented today with the scale of the cost of our redemption. The one who is King, not just reigning over the people of Israel but over all of creation, offered himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. That he chose to do so, that he willingly offered himself… what words can capture that kind of love?


  • Philippians Canticle: Liturgy of the Hours, First Vespers of Sunday, Weeks 1-4
  • Christ’s kingship draws people to himself through his death and resurrection: CCC 786 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)