Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Palm Sundays

by Dom H. Philibert Feasey, O.S.B.


This article provides the history and explanation of the ceremonies of Palm Sundays including the blessing, procession, and the singing of the Passion.

Larger Work

American Ecclesiastical Review


361 - 381

Publisher & Date

American Ecclesiastical Review, April, 1908

"The devout ceremonies of Palm Sundays in processions," says Roger Edgeworth, Canon of Salisbury in the days of King Henry VIII, "and on Good Fridays about the laying of the Cross and Sacrament into the Sepulchre gloriously arrayed, be so necessary to succor the capabilities of man's remembrance, that if they were not used once every year, it is to be feared that Christ's Passion would soon be forgotten."1

Putting aside the common pagan custom of bearing branches of palm and other trees as a sign of joy and triumph in procession, the Christian usage most probably took its origin from the palm-bearing of the Jews at their Feast of Tabernacles. At that time it was their wont to perambulate every day about the altar waving their Lulath — branches of palm bound at the lower extremities with sprigs of willow, myrtle, maple, or citron.2 As they advanced, the priests chanted the great Hallel (Psalms 112-117), the people responding at certain prescribed intervals and singing Hosanna or Alleluia. On the seventh day of the feast they went seven times round the altar in the Temple court and from this constant repetition of the Hosannas this day came to be called amongst them the "Great Hosanna." From the association of the palm boughs with the Hosannas, the former themselves in course of time came to be called "Hosannas."3 Every Jewish congregation was bound to provide them for worshipers, and according to the Talmud all children old enough to wave the palm branches were expected to take part in the procession.

By the fourth century the particular observance of this day would seem to have been already established in the churches and monasteries of the East. St. Cyril of Jerusalem's catechetical discourses delivered at this period has seemingly an allusion to the employment of palms. Toward the end of the fourth century, (circa A. D. 380), Egeria or Eucheria, a pious lady pilgrim to Jerusalem, describes what she witnessed on this day in the Holy City itself. The whole population of the city, having in the afternoon gone out to the Mount of Olives, where they gathered round the bishop at the place where our Lord ascended into heaven, and, after singing antiphons, reciting prayers, and reading from Holy Scripture, then returned to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She says: "And when after long prayers it begins to be about six o'clock, that passage in the Gospel is read aloud in which the children with branches and palms greeted our Lord crying, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And straightway the bishop rises and all the people with him, and thence they go from the summit of Mount Olivet, the whole way on foot, the people walking before him with palms and antiphons and continually singing the refrain, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in these places, even those that cannot yet walk because they are so young, are carried by their parents in their arms, all with boughs, some of olive, some of palm, and in that way they bring the bishop to the city, just as the crowds escorted our Lord."4 In the seventh century St. Aldhelm (De Laude Virg., cap. 15) declares it to be done on ancient authority.

By the ninth and tenth centuries this realistic and touching rite, vividly recalling as it did the actual triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem on this day, had reached not only Constantinople, the metropolis of the East, but even Spain and England. St. Isidore of Seville in Spain (A. D. 610) speaks of it as a great day,5 St. Aldhelm in England (A. D. 709) mentions the singing of "Ozanna," and the sacramentary of St. Gregory, one of the most ancient manuscripts, alludes to the faithful coming to the church with palms. Blessed palms were sent on Palm Sunday by the Popes to princes certainly as early as the eleventh century.

The pontifical of Egbert, Archbishop of York (732-766), contains probably the earliest known form of benediction of palms. Amalarius in the ninth century also mentions this benediction.

The name of "Palm" Sunday, Dominica in Palmis, or "ad Palmas," is ancient and of almost universal application. It occurs in the monk Cyril's Life of Euthymius who died in 472,6 and Merati finds it in an ancient Roman Kalendar of about the fourth-fifth century.7 Branch Sunday, Olive Sunday, Sallow or Willow Sunday, or Sunday of the Willow Boughs, Yew Sunday, Flower Day, or Blossom Sunday, and Pascua florida, the Easter of Flowers, Palm Easter, or Flower Easter (Paques Fleuries) were other names for it — all taken from the custom of bearing yew, box, or willow branches in lieu of palm in the procession of this day.

It was but natural that in England and in other countries far removed from the East that evergreen boughs such as box, willow, and yew would be brought largely into requisition, real palm in any quantity being unobtainable.

In the Sarum books the ceremony is called benedictio florum et frondium — the blessing of flowers and branches. "Flowers and palms" are to be presented on the altar "for the clergy," and the four collects speak of blessing "flowers" and "branches of palms and boughs of trees," "branches of palm and other trees," and "branches" of palm and other trees and flowers. Branches of palm and olive are mentioned in the Roman Missal because they are found growing in Italy. In Rome olive branches are chiefly given to the laity, the clergy carrying palms dried and twisted into various shapes. In Venice and other parts of Italy the clergy carry olive branches. The Ceremoniale Episcoporum (ii, 21) suggests that, if true palms cannot be had, little flowers or crosses of palm should be attached to the olive boughs.

In all probability the yew tree so frequently found in our old churchyards was so planted in order to provide the branches for this Palm Sunday procession. An old sermon for Dominica in Ramis Palmarum, printed in Caxton's Liber Festivalis ("Emprynted at Westmynster 1483"), would seem to support this: "For encheson [reason] that we have none olyue that berith green leaf therefore we take Ewe in stede of palme & olyue & beren aboute in procession & so is thys day callyd palme sonday."8 Becon, Archbishop Cranmer's chaplain, writing in the reign of Henry VIII, says: "That which they bear indeed in their hands is not properly called a palm, for they are boughs of the sallow tree." A little further he adds that, "in some places also they bear green herbs in the stead of olives."9

Yew is still called "palm" in many places, just as the willow (sallow, salix caprea) is so called in the north of England, East Kent, Scotland and Germany in consequence of its ancient use on this day — "Palme the yelowe that groweth on wyllowes." In the extended version of the hymn Gloria laus by its probable author Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans (A. D. 821), when prisoner at Angers by order of Louis the Good, there is a clear reference to the use of willow branches in the procession:

Castaque pro ramis salicis praecordia sunto;

Nos operum ducat prata ad amoena viror.

Another much later writer, Barnaby Googe, supports this also in verse:

Besides they candles up do light of virtue like in all;

And willow branches hallow, that they Palmes do use to call.10

In St. Lawrence's churchyard, Thanet, an ancient yew tree was called for many generations "the Palm Tree." John Curling of Chilton (a hamlet nearby), who died in 1652, desired in his will to be "buried near the Palm Tree." In the year 1709 the churchwardens of St. Dunstan's, Canterbury, caused a "palm tree" to be planted in their churchyard, which could have been no other than a yew tree. This is borne out by an entry in the church accounts of Woodbury, Devonshire, where in 1775 "a yew or palm tree was planted in the churchyard ye south of the church, in the same place where one was blown down by the wind a few years ago." The cloister Garth at Wells with its yew tree in the centre, was called Palm churchyard, perhaps for a similar reason.

On the other hand it is not quite clear what the "flowers" (florum) were which the Salisbury books order to be blessed. They may have been either the "flowers" (catkins) of the willow or flowers to be thrown down before the Blessed Sacrament or flowers to be strewn in the procession or used in the decoration of the Palm or Churchyard Cross. "Here Cryst passeth forth," says the Coventry Miracle Play in the scene of Christ's entry into Jerusalem, "ther metyth hym serteyn chylderyn with flowers, and cast beforn hym, and they synggyn 'Gloria laus.'"11

The cakes, obleyes, and bread so frequently noted down in these old church accounts were doubtless "singing cakes," that is, unconsecrated wafers which seem to have been thrown down together with the flowers amongst the singing boys during the procession. "The procession came," says a seventeenth-century writer, (circa 1600), describing some ceremonial observances during Queen Mary Tudor's reign, "with the Blessed Sacrament and with a little bell ringing and singing . . . and coming near the porch a boy, or one of the clerks, did cast over among the boys, flowers and singing cakes."12 Wafer-bread used for the Mass was commonly called "singing-bread," or "singing cakes" because used in singing Mass. This kind of bread, however, was also used for domestic purposes.

According to Nasgeorgus and his translator Barnaby Googe this practice was observed also on Ascension Day in England: "This done [the figure of the ascending Christ having been drawn up] they wafers downe doe cast and singing cakes the while — with papers round amongst them put, the children to beguile." Fosbroke in his British Monachism adds that this took place at Whitsuntide likewise.

From the book of Duties or Constitutions of the Parish Clerks of St. Nicholas, Bristol and Holy Trinity Church, Coventry, it was the duty of that officer to provide the palm for use on Palm Sunday. By section 38 of the Duties of the Parish Clerks of St. Nicholas, Bristol, dated 1481, the "suffragan clerk" had to "fynde palme and flowrys A-yenste palme-sonday at his coste uppon payne of xxd." Later, i.e. in the reign of Henry VIII, the church wardens paid for it.

The Blessing And Procession

The office for the blessing of the palms consists of three portions — the benediction of palms, the procession with the same, and the Mass. The Sarum or old English form of blessing differed from that of the Roman and other missals; the procession and stations, however, have some similarity. At Salisbury the blessing was made on the third step of the altar, the flowers and palms being presented on the altar for the clergy; but for others, on the step only. It may be that they were presented or laid on a cushion.

The blessing and distribution being concluded, all, both clergy and laity, took part in the procession, which was arranged in the church porch.

It is impossible to say to what extent the ritual practised in Sarum Cathedral was adopted in parish churches, for of old every village church in England had its procession of palms on this day. Of necessity it must have been, generally speaking, in a very modified form, as the Palm Sunday rite at Sarum was a magnificent and imposing ceremony, particularly the procession. The following is a synopsis:

Benediction of Palms: High Altar

Procession: West Quire door, Cloister, Canon's door in east walk of cloisters.

First Station: At the end of the Laics' Cemetery (Eastern?), north of the church. Here it was met by the shrine with the Corpus Christ.

Second Station: South side of church, East of cloisters, North walk of cloisters

Third Station: West door of church, Enter the church

Fourth Station: Before the Rood, which is then uncovered, Choir

At places other than Salisbury the course of the procession differed considerably, e.g. at Evesham Abbey, where the stations were but three, i.e. (1) on Merstow Green; (2) before the (west) church doors, after passing through the High Street by the cemetery gate; (3) "as in solemn processions" before the Great Rood. In the event of unfavorable weather the procession made a circuit of the cloister, in which case the stations were: (a) the Chapter House (east); (b) Abbey School (on the Guest House side) (west); (c) to the church as above.

The Processional of the Nuns of Chester, dated circa 1425, shows how the procession was conducted in the Benedictine House. The palms having been blessed and the chanters having started the anthem Pueri hebreorum, the procession passed from the choir to the church door, and thence to "ierusalem," where the prioress and two other "ladies" "shall take the prestes & goo in to the cyte of ierusalem"13 where they sang the "anthym" En rex venit . . . lectio prophetica, the "ladies" (nuns) without responding kneeling: Salue quem ihesum . . . verba salutis, and the other anthems. This accomplished, they all, the priests before them, went singing to the "hie crosse in the churcheyarde," where a deacon read a gospel on the "northe halff" (side) of the cross. After the reading a triple kneeling was made, the Dignus es domine . . . et honorem being sung. With an anthem and responsary they returned to the church door, where the two chanters took "ij ladies into the churche" to assist them in singing the Gloria laus. After this they went with the anthem Ingrediente domino, to the rood-cross in the church before which the priest "knelt down thrice singing Ave rex noster, and so all into the choir."14

A later description in dialogue of the Palm Sunday procession is found in the 1563 edition of the collected works of Thomas Becon, as it probably appeared within the writer's remembrance. It is found in a composition entitled "A Potacion or drinkynge for this holy tyme of Lent," and is as follows:

"In the begynnyge of the Procession the people goethe oute havynge every one a Palme in theyr hand followynge the Crosse which is covered with a clothe . . . that whiche they beare in dede in theyre handes, is not properlye called a Palme, for they are the bowes of a Salow tree, but because we have no Palmes growinge in this londe, therefore do we beare them in stede of Palmes. . . Than go they forthe withe the Crosse, vntyll they come vnto a certain stedde of the Chyrche yearde, where they stonde styll, and in the meane season, the preste rede the gospell. . . . The Gospell beynge once done, than goth the people forthe withe the crosse that is covered, and even streyghtwayes not farre from them come other people and the preste wyth the Sacrament, whyche have wyth them a crosse bare and uncovered, prycyked ful of grene Olives and Palmes . . . ye shall note, that there come forthe certayne chyldren before the naked Crosse, syngynge a certayne songe, whiche begynnethe. En Rex uenit. Beholde the Kynge commeth. . . After the songe of the chyldren, the Preste goeth forthe with the Sacrament and certayne people also wythe the naked Crosse, vntill they mete wythe that Crosse, that is obuelated and couered. They are not so soone met, but the bumbled [covered] Crosse vanyshe awaye, and is conveyed from the company streyghtwayes. Than all the whole people enclose togyther wyth great joy, syngyng and makyng melody triumphantly followynge the naked crosse, bearynge in theyr handes euery one a Palme, in some places also they beare grene herbes in the stede of Oliues. . . These thynges once done, than the people gothe somewhat further vnto the chyrche dorewarde, and there stondeth styll. . . Immediately after certayne chyldrenne stondyng vpon an hygh place right agaynste the people, synge wythe a lowde voyce a certayne Hympne, in the prayse of oure Sauioure Jesus Christ, whych begynnethe, Gloria laus. . . . At the end of euery verse, the chyldren caste downe certayne cakes or breades wythe floures. . . These thynges once done than gothe the procession forth vntill they come to the chyrche dore whyche, whan they come vnto it, is sparred, and certayne chyldren in the chyrche syngyng. The songe beyng once done, the Preste taketh the crosse in his hand, and putteth the dore from hym with it, and so openeth it, and entreth in with all the other people after him. . . . Whan they are once entred into the chyrche, whereby heauen is signified, than dothe all the people knele downe, and the prest pluckyng vp the clothe, wher with the crucifyxe was couered, and makyng it open to all that are there presente, syngethe a certayne songe, the people in the meane season prayeng and gyuynge thanckes vuto God. And so endeth the Procession.15

In these accounts it will have been noticed that a "station" was generally made in the cemetery or churchyard at the cross.

By the Constitutions of William (de Bleys), Bishop of Worcester (1229), a cross "decent and honest" was to be erected in the cemetery or churchyard, to which processions might be made on Palm Sunday, unless otherwise accustomed.

The old parish books of St. Andrew Hubbard Church, London, have an entry for the year 1524-5: "To James Walker, for making dene the Churchyard ag'st Palm Sunday, 1d."

This churchyard cross was known in some places as the "palm cross," crux buxata (from buxus, box) and took the form of a stone crucifix near the south entrance of the church; and which was decorated on this day with flowers and palm branches.

Fifteenth and sixteenth century testamentary dispositions give evidence of a not infrequent desire on the part of the testator to be buried in the churchyard of his parish church near the "palm cross," or near the "cross called the palm cross." Thomas-at-Hill in 1524 desired to be buried in the churchyard of Saint Lawrence of Bitborowe [Bidborough, Kent] nigh to the Palme Crosse."16 John Hyllis, in the same year, wished "to be buried in the parish churchyard of Saynt John Baptist of Wateringbury (Kent) besyde the palme crosse." Robert Brook, by will proved 19 June, 1536, desires to be "Buried in the churchyard of St. Peter's (Sandwich) there, between the two little stone crosses beside the palme cross."

The procession as it occurred in parish churches is described by Clement Maideston, an old commentator on the Sarum rite. Dr. Roch, in his Church of Our Fathers, gives it, but not verbatim:

While they were going from the north side toward the east, and had just ended the Gospel read at the first station, the shrine with the Sacrament, surrounded with lights in lanterns and with streaming banners, and preceded by a silver cross and a thurifer with incense, was borne forward so that they might meet it as it were, and our Lord was hailed by the singers chanting, Ecce rex venit mansuetos. Kneeling lowly down and kissing the ground they saluted the Sacrament again and again in many appropriate sentences out of Holy Writ; and the red wooden cross withdrew from the presence of the silver crucifix. The whole procession now moved to the south side of the close or churchyard, where, in the cathedrals, a temporary erection was made for the bass who sang the Gloria, laus, as a halt was made for a Second Station.

From the stone cross . . . the procession went next to the western doorway, if the church had one, otherwise to the south porch, and there paused to make its Third Station. The door itself was shut, but after awhile flew wide open. The priests who bore the shrine with the Blessed Sacrament and relics, stepped forward with the heavenly burden, and held it up on high at the doorway, so that all that went in had to go under this shrine; and thus the procession came back into the church, each bowing his head as he passed beneath the Sacrament.

Roger Martin, who died in 1580, gives the following description of the Palm Sunday ceremonies as they occurred in his youth in the parish church of Melford, Suffolk:

Upon Palm Sunday, the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession about the churchyard under a fair canopy, borne by four yeomen. The procession coming to the church gate went westward, and they with the Blessed Sacrament went eastward; and when the procession came against the door of Mr. Clopton's aisle, they with the Blessed Sacrament, with a little bell and singing, approached the east end of Our Lady's chapel; at which time a boy with a thing (i.e., a "rodde of largest size") in his hand pointed to it, signifying a prophet, as I think, and sang, standing up on the turret that is upon the said Mr. Clopton's aisle door: Ecce Rex tuus venit, etc. And then all did kneel down, and then, rising up went singing together into the church, and coming near the porch, a boy or one of the clerks did cast over among the boys flowers and singing cakes.17

The introduction of the Blessed Sacrament18 into the Palm Sunday procession is generally ascribed to Lanfranc, who when Abbot of Bec, ordered a like ceremony and one which was particularly confined to England and Normandy; and "although," says Mr. Edmund Bishop, "the observance is in fact prescribed in Lanfranc's statutes for Canterbury Cathedral [which in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were known as 'the Bec customs'], and is not mentioned by John of Avranches,19 the question is not at all an easy one to settle, and the difficulties are considerable either way. If anything, the probabilities may perhaps be that the custom arose rather in England."20

It is on the authority of Mathew of Paris that the introduction is accredited to Lanfranc, for he says that the directory, which had been drawn up by the latter for the Abbey of Bec was soon adopted in the larger Benedictine abbeys in England. Nevertheless, at the close of the fourteenth century (A.D. 1390) the practice of carrying the Blessed Sacrament in the Palm Sunday procession was not found at St. Mary's Benedictine Abbey, York,21 and, as we have seen, the Processional of the Nuns of Chester, dated circa 1425, does not mention it.

Reginald Peacock, writing about the middle of the fifteenth century seems to imply that as late as 1449, it had not become quite general. "In elder days," he says, "when procession was made in the Palm Sunday before mass, the Eucharist was not brought forth that the procession of the clerks and the lay people should meet with Himl; but a bare uncovered cross was brought forth against the procession, and the procession should meet against it, as I have read in divers old ordinals of Catholic churches and monasteries in England: though in later days, and namely [i.e. specially] in some churches the Eucharist borne in a chest among relicks, and in many places He is borne in a cup ordeyned thereto. Then thus: In those days and in those places when and where the procession met in Palm Sunday with the naked cross, or with the chest of relicks without the Eucharist, some of the clerks were ordered for to stand before the said cross, and for to turn them toward the procession and say in singing to all the clergy and people thus: O Sion, daughter to the King, mild and meek. This is He which cometh from Edom in clothes died with blood.' . . . And then thus said and sung from the clerks, in the cross's behalf, the priests and people fall down, kneeling with all their knees to the ground, saying or singing in both manners toward the said discovered cross, thus: 'Hail! thou, whom the people of the Hebrews meeting, witnessed to be Jesus,' etc., etc." 22

Lanfranc's directions are as follows: "After Tierce the abbot blesses the palms and flowers. The palms are carried by the abbot and other dignitaries, branches and flowers by the rest. All the bells are rung while the procession leaves the choir. Servants lead the way with banners, then a lay brother with holy water, two others with crosses, and two with candlesticks and lighted tapers, two with thuribles. . . Then two subdeacons carrying two books of the Gospels,23 followed by the lay monks. Next the two boys with their masters, then the rest of the brethren two and two, and lastly the abbot." Antiphons were sung during the progress of the procession. The Directory continues: "A little before daybreak a place had been prepared, to which the body of our Lord had been carried by two priests and placed in a shrine.24 When the procession reaches this place it halts, and two priests vested in white come forward. The banner and cross bearers having moved forward, the two priests take up the feretory with the body of Christ and stand still. The procession is ranged around and antiphons are sung, at the end of which they genuflect. When the abbot intones the antiphon Ave Rex noster, the bearers of the feretory go forward, preceded by the banners and crosses and pass up between the lines of the rest of the procession. As the Blessed Sacrament passes, they genuflect two and two. Then they follow in procession till they reach the gates of the city, where a halt or station is made, and the feretory is laid on a table covered with a pall, in the entrance to the gates. The gateway is adorned with curtains and rich hangings. The boys sing the Gloria, laus and other antiphons and at the Ingrediente Domino the procession returns, the great bells of the city ringing during the rest of the procession. When the procession returning comes to the gates of the monastery, another station is made before a temporary altar. Antiphons are sung. The Blessed Sacrament is again taken up, and they enter the church and make a third station before the crucifix uncovered for the purpose. Then the Mass begins."25

Medieval wills, church inventories, and similar documents also supply evidence for the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the Palm Sunday procession, e.g., Robert Thurston of Mekyll Waldyngfield, in 1494, directs his executors to "provyde and ordeyn a clenly seler26 for to be born ovyr the Sacrament on Palme Sunday and on Corpus Xti Day." In 1552 at Moulsford, Berks., there was a "canabe for palme-sondaye of grene and Red satene;" and at St. Mary's, Bletchingley, Surrey, at the same date, "a clothe that was wonte to be borne on Palme Sunday." The Ludlow, Shropshire, Church Accounts for 1555-7 have charges for "pyns and poynts to dresse the canapie to beare over the Sacrament on Palme Sondaye," and for "pyns and poynts upon Palme Sondaye, to tye up the coverlett in the churche over the offrynge place." 27

An unveiled cross leads the procession — the Lenten cross of wood painted red, sometimes green; and lights in lanterns preceded the Eucharist. The MS. inventory of St. Peter's, Cornhill, London, has: "Item, ij lanternes one of glasse in ye body of the churche and other of home for Palme Sondaye." The inventory of St. Dunstan's in the East, London, has a similar entry. The constitutions of Lanfranc also refer to it: "Accendatur Cereus quem portare in hasta debet Secretarius, accendatur et candela in laterna hanc portare debet unus de magistris puerorum,"28 while that at Canterbury is described "hasta ad portandum cereum ad novum ignem."29

The Blessed Sacrament was carried in a shrine or bier and sometimes with relics. A MS. Sarum Missal in the possession of Mr. Iredale of Torquay, exhibited at a meeting of the Devonshire Association, tells us that, while the distribution of palms is in progress "a bier with reliquaries in which the body of Christ may rest in a pyx is prepared at the first station. The "feretrum cum camisia S. Edmundi" was amongst the relics carried in procession round the Church of Bury St. Edmund on Christmas Day, Palm Sunday, Easter Sunday, etc.30

Among the magnificent gifts of Simon, nineteenth abbot of St. Alban's, to that abbey church, in the latter part of the twelfth century, was a splendid shrine for carrying the Host in the Palm Sunday procession, which Matthew Paris calls "Vas mirificum." The abbot decreed that the Lord's Body should be reverently set in the shrine and should be carried by one of the brethren venerable for character as well as for age, vested in a white chasuble, to a pavilion or tent erected in the churchyard and composed of the most precious stuffs, unless the inclemency of the weather should prevent. Thence it was carried to the chapter-house and then back to the church with the greatest veneration.31

At Chichester the Blessed Sacrament was also carried in a shrine-shaped vessel by an old monk in a white chasuble supported by two other monks in copes, to a tent prepared in the cemetery, thence to the chapter-house, and back into the church. At Durham it would appear that the portable Easter Sepulchre was so used and appeared in sight of the multitude just as the words Benedictus qui venit, etc., at the close of the Gospel were being said, and on reaching the station the Blessed Sacrament was incensed and adored.

The Prophet

The Sarum Processional (pp. 50-51) directs the Prophetical Lesson after the Gospel at the first station of the procession to be sung by "an acolyte in the guise of a prophet." Mr. Roger Martin (he died in 1580) in his account of the Palm Sunday ceremony as he remembered it in Catholic days in his parish church of Melford, Suffolk, describes this personification as a boy with a "rodde of largest size" in his hand mounted upon the turret over the aisle door, who sang as he pointed to the Blessed Sacrament with the rod "Ecce Rex tuus venit, etc." This survival of the ancient liturgical drama, although no part of the rite, appears from the churchwardens' accounts to have been very generally followed in the churches. In the London city church of St. Mary-at-Still (1451) a gentleman of the name of Loreman was paid "iiijd" for "playing the p'phet on Palm Sunday." At St. Martin's, Leicester, in 1544, the prophet's hire was thrown in with the charge for "ale at the reading of the pass'n, ijd." 32 In well-to-do churches "the guise" was complete, raiment and hair, a hat and a beard being kept for his particular use. Where they had them not they were hired. The "hyering of the heres [wigs] for the p'fetys uppon Palme Sondaye" at St. Peter Cheap, London in 1519, cost the churchwardens "xijd," a similar sum being paid by those of St. Mary-at-Hill in 1531, for "the hire of rayment for the Prophets and js. iiijd." for "Cloth of Arras" for the same occasion. In some places the "guise" seems to have been that of an angel. The wardens of St. Andrew Hubbard in 1520 hired "an angel" at the cost of viijd, in 1535-7. The "angel" was procured for "iiijd" and "a preste and chylde that playde a messenger" for "viijd," while the wardens of All Hallows, Staining, for a like amount hired "a pair of wings and a crest" for their angel. At St. Peter Cheap "iiijd" was paid "for the settyng up of the stages for the prophets on Palm Sonday and for nayllys."

The stages were the temporary eminences from which the singers sang the Gloria, laus.33 The Sarum Missal directs the Antiphon "Gloria, and honour, and laud be to Thee, King Christ the Redeemer," to be sung by seven boys34 in a prominent place (in loco eminentiore). Old parish accounts furnish frequent charges for putting up scaffolds, which appear to have been erected on (over) the church porch door. "Lathe" and "nayls" and "pynnys" for the frame of the "skafolde," to "tak up clothes," "hooks for the pageants," and other miscellaneous items also appear.35

In the cathedral and larger parish churches the boys sang and responded from an exterior or interior constructional gallery, or the battlements would be used, as was formerly the case at Aibi and now at Lisieux. At Hereford they sang from the top of the city gate,36 as at Rouen circa 1450 from the summit of the tower over the gate.37 At Chichester, Winchester, and other English Cathedrals, the gallery over the west porch was used by the singers. Perhaps also at Westminster Abbey Church, where a sculpture of Christ entering Jerusalem appears over the triforium arcade, north transept door. In some parishes such galleries still exists, as at Weston-in-Gordano, Somerset, where a remnant of a small gallery remains over the door within the south porch, approached by narrow stone stairs. At Wroxall Church, in the same county, is a similar gallery.

A contemporary account of the arrival of King Edward IV in England in the year 1471, tells how he came to Daventry and heard all the divine service in the parish church there on Palm Sunday: "So it fell, that the same Palm Sunday, the king went in procession, and all the people after, in good devotion, as the service of that day asketh, and, when the procession was come into the church, and, by order of the service, were come to that place where the veil should be drawn up before the Rood, that all the people should honour the Rood with the anthem Ave, three times begun. . . etc."38

At this uncovering of the Great Rood all other crosses in the Church were uncovered after evensong. "Omnes cruces per Ecclesiam sint discoopertae usque post vesperas."39

The Singing Of The Passion

The great feature of the Palm Sunday Mass was the solemn chanting of the Gospel for the day or "the Singing of the Passion," as it was called. The narrative of the Passion according to St. Matthew was sung on the Sunday; that of St. Mark on Tuesday; of St. Luke on Wednesday; and St. John's on Good Friday. The practice of reading the entire narrative at this season of the Church's year is very old. St. Augustine wished to introduce it in Hippo and it was followed in Spain.

The Salisbury Cathedral inventory of 1536 has the following: "Item, . . . The Texts of Lent and Passion of which beginneth in the second leaf, the second covered with linnen cloth with a red rose, with a Scripture, 'Judica meam causam, Domine.'"40

This singing of the stories of the Passion was in all probability a remnant of the Mystery Play and took the place of the ordinary sequence or initial. They are sung in three tones; the deep, the middle, and the exalted. The words or sayings of the Jews or the disciples and others were sung in the vox alta (alto) or exalted tone; those of the Saviour in the vox bassa (bass) or deep tone; the third, vox media (mean or tenor) was employed in the recitation of the narrative of the Evangelist. The contralto, which went to the alto in the old Sarum books, is called by the Latins ancilla, because to it are assigned the words of the maid in St. Mark's Gospel, and the choir represented the multitude.

The Passion was chanted by three persons or groups of persons, vested in different-colored vestments,41 so divided up, the rubric says, to indicate the three different voices employed. In some missals the parts are marked by letters, etc., to indicate the voice for each, or the part to be taken. In the Burntisland edition of the Sarum Missal, it is explained in the rubric before the Passion for Palm Sunday, that letter a signifies Jews and disciples, b Christ, m the Evangelist, and that the voices are as aforesaid alto, bass, and medium or tenor. A MS. Sarum Missal (circa 1320) has a + for Jesus, c for chronista, and s for synagoga. This agrees with the Roman. The Durham Chapter MS. of the Gospels (A. II, 16) to which has been assigned a date about 700 or even earlier, has in all the four Gospels, in the histories of the Passion, the words of Christ distinguished by l, and all the rest together under c. This Canon Fowler thinks a simpler and earlier arrangement than any of the above; the letters probably being not very much later than the original manuscript.42 Sometimes an e marked the part of the Evangelist. Notes of the music are sometimes given for each voice and now and then through the narrative there are small portions with the notes over them, in order to keep the voices in proper pitch, very different from the tone now generally used.43 It is said, in a Graduale dated I528,44 five voices are distinguished for the Passion. In the Cathedral of Albi, Aquitaine, in 1618 that portion of the Passion called the "Synagogue" ceased to be chanted "en musique," as was the old custom, by order of Bishop D'Elbene.

At Evesham Abbey the celebrant at the High Mass on this day held a palm at the singing of the Gospel; at Salisbury the candle-bearers carried branches of palm in lieu of the Gospel candlesticks. In the Roman rite all hold palms during the singing of the Gospel and Passion; in the Greek rite matins are continued after the procession and those who have assisted hold palms throughout the service. At Cluny they had a custom of tearing a piece of stuff at the words "they parted my garments," in the Passion; and at other places, on the Wednesday of Holy Week, of letting the Lent Veil before the altar fall at the words: "Velum templi scissum est," in the "Passion" of St. Luke.

In spite of his reforming proclivities, King Henry VIII declared that the custom of carrying palm-branches on this day was to be continued and not cast away. In the proclamation issued in his thirtieth year he enjoins that, "on Palme Sunday it shall be declared that bearing Palmes reviveth the memorie of the receivynge of Christ in like manere into Jerusalem before His Deathe." Independent of this so great a hold had this palm-bearing upon the people that it became a proverbial saying that, "He that hath not a palm in his hand on Palm Sunday, must have his hand cut off."45

It would seem, according to the prescription of old rubrics that the blessed palm and flowers were to be presented as an offering to the priest at the Offertory at Mass on this day and not taken away, as the modern custom is. ". . . We imitate the faithful of that [Jewish] people," says Aelfric, the disciple of St. Aethelwold, "with this deed, for they bore palm twigs, with him before Jesus. Now we should hold our palms until the singer begins the offering-song, and then offer to God the palm for its betokening. Palm betokens victory. . . "46' The palms were afterwards burned to furnish the ashes for use on Ash Wednesday. Section 24 of the Constitutions of the Parish Clerks at Holy Trinity Church (Coventry) made in 1462, direct the clerk to "se the pallmes be brennyd For the ashys (ashes) that schalbe dawlte on Ashe wensday."47

Dom H. Philibert Feasey, O.S.B.

Ramsgate, England.


1 Sermons, fol. 94, ed. 1557. London: Robert Caly.

2 See Edersheim: Life of Jesus, the Messiah, Vol. II, pp. 367, 372.

3 In Southern Europe and amongst the Copts "Hosanna Sunday," or merely "Hosanna," is still the name for this day.

4 See Dom Ferotin's discussion on this pilgrimage of Egeria (St. Silvia of Aquitaine). Revue des Questions Historiques, October, 1903.

5 See Revue Benedictine, July, 1893.

6 Act. SS., 20 Januarii.

7 Tom. II, pars IV, tit. 7 (see Martene, Anecdota).

8 See also Hampson's Medii Aevi Kalendarium, p. 300, Book IV.

9 Becon: Early Works, Parker Society, 1843, pp. 112, 114.

10 Popish Kingdom, published 1570.

11 At Ghent in Belgium the bishop still carries a nosegay of various flowers on Palm Sunday.

12 Neale, J. P.: Views of Most Interesting Churches, etc. London, 1825; Vol. II, p. 13. Description of the Palm Sunday procession in Holy Trinity Church, Melford, Suffolk.

13 Probably an enclosed eminence.

14 The Processional of the Nuns of Chester. Ed. by Dr. Wickham Legg for the Henry Bradshaw Society, 1899.

15 A Potacion, etc., . . . by Theodore Basille. London: John Mayler for John Gough, 1543. Brit. Mus., C. 21, a. 7. Quoted by J. Wickham Legg in the Clerk's Book of 1549, pp. 116-117. Henry Bradshaw Society.

16 Will Register (VII, 362), Consistory Court of Rochester, now at Somerset House. Ibid., VII, 319. Archdeaconry, Vol. XX, ยง 10.

17 Neale, J. P.: Views of Most Interesting Churches. Vol. II, p. 13.

18 Alcuin, in the eighth century, tells us that the Holy Gospel was carried on a shrine or feretory during this procession.

19 Le Prevost's edition in Migne, Patr. Lat., Vol. 147. Col. 117-119.

20 Bishop, E.: Holy Week Rites of Sarum, Hereford and Rouen Compared. Tr. Soc. S. Osmund, Vol. I, Pt. iv, p. 100.

21 Vide MS. Ordinale, St. John's College, Cambridge.

22 Peacock, R.: The Repression of over-much blaming of the clergy. Rolls Series, 1860, Vol. I, pp. 202 ff.

23 Perhaps representing Christ Himself? See Note 29.

24 Compare the Hereford and Rouen rites. The Host was still carried in procession at Rouen in Martene's day.

25 Opera Lanfranci, Ed. Giles, Vol. I, p. 100.

26 Selour or celour, a canopy with back and side curtains.

27 See illuminations, Lansdowne MS. 432 and Harleian MS. 4919, which show the Palm Sunday procession in which the priest carries the Blessed Sacrament in a red cope.

28 Wilkin's Concilia. Vol. I, p. 339.

29 Dart: Appendix, XII.

30 Rituale. Hare MS. 297, cent. XIV. Quoted by lames, p. 183. Cam-den Antiq. Soc. Publications, No. XXVIII.

31 Chron. Monast. S. Albani, Gesta Abbatum, Rolls Series, 1867. Vol. I, pp. 191-192.

32 Nichols, History of Leicester, IV, pt. ii. The charge is equal to 3s. 4d. modern value.

33 The words and music are attributed to Theodulphus, an Italian bishop of Orleans, and were composed, it is said, in the prison of Angers, in 835 A. D.

34 The Hereford Missal (repr. 1874, p. 80) says five or seven boys; at Rouen six sang MS. Ordinarium, in Migne, Patr. Lat., 147, col. 119.

35 Griffith. Extracts from the old books of St. Andrew Hubbard's parish, London.

36 London Missal. Henderson's rep't, 1874, p. 80.

37 MS. Ordinarium of Rouen Cathedral, in Migne Patr. Lat., 147, col. 119.

38 Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV in England, Camden Soc., 1838, pp. 13-14.

39 Missale Sarum, p. 262.

40 Nightingale: The Church Plate of Wilts, p. 244.

41 The clergy at Wells Cathedral were directed to wear red vestments on Palm Sunday, except a black cope "ad opus Caiaphae" (i. e., for him who takes the part of Caiaphas in the singing of the Passion). Wells Cathedral Ordinale et Statuta (A. D. 1340). There is a transcript at Lambeth Palace library, made in 1634.

42 See Grove, Dictionary of Music, s.v. Passion Music. The Durham Missal (MS. Harl. 5289) contains rubrics concerning local usages at Passiontide, Easter, etc.

43 The rubric says: "Omnes autem Passiones supradicto modo legantur secundum usum Sarum."

44 Fol. 89. I have no further particulars. — H. P. F.

45 The Jewish rubric is very similar: "He who has a palm branch," it says, "yet goes not in the Procession, does ill." Douce's MS., notes.

46 See Fosbroke, British Monachism, and Brand, Popular Antiquities.

47 British Magazine, 1834, Vol. VI, pp. 262 ff.

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