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Commentary from 
Rivingtons, London, 1884
The last week of Lent has ever been observed by Christians as a time of special solemnity; and from the awfully important events which occurred in the last week of our Lord's life, which it represents to us, it has been called, from primitive times, the Great Week and the Holy Week.  During this period there was, as early as the days of St. Chrysostom, a general cessation of business among the Christian part of the people: fasting was observed with greater strictness than in the other weeks of Lent, and special acts of mercy and charity were engaged in by all, the Emperors (when they had become Christian) setting an official example by ceremonies of which our Royal Maundy is a relic. 

The first day of the Holy Week is called Indulgence Sunday in the Lectionary of St. Jerome, and in many other later writers.  This name has been explained by a custom of the Christian Emperors, who used to set prisoners free and close all courts of law during Holy Week.  But it seems to have been in use before this practice originated, which was not earlier than the end of the fourth century.  It has also been supposed to be connected with the reconciliation of penitents.  In the Sacramentary of St. Gregory there is the phrase, "Per Quem nobis indulgentia largitur," in the proper preface for this day, and "ut indulgentiam percipere mereamur," in the Collect for Tuesday; from which it may be inferred that the name Indulgence Sunday (and Indulgence Week) originally pointed to our Lord's work of redemption, and His great love in going forward willingly on this day to meet His sufferings.  The day is also called Hosanna Sunday in some parts of Europe and the East. 

But a far more common name is that by which it is familiarly known to us, that of Palm Sunday.  It is called Dominica in ramis palmarum in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory, and Dominica in ramis olivarum  in that of St. Ambrose, and in the former there is a plain reference to the ceremony of branch-bearing as one then in use, as well as to the act of the Jews which originally gave the name to the Sunday.  The words are in the Benediction of the people: "May Almighty God grant unto you, that as ye present yourselves before Him with branches of palms and of other trees, so after your departure from this life ye may attain to appear before Him with the fruit of good works and the palm of victory."  In the Ambrosian rite it is not so clear that the ceremony was then in use; but St. Chrysostom mentions the shaking of the palm-branches [seiein ta baia] as one of the customs of the day in one of his sermons for the Great Week. 

In the ancient English Church the Benediction of the Palms took place before the beginning of the Holy Communion.  First an Acolyte read Exodus xv. 27 - xvi. 10, the narrative of Israel's encamping by the twelve wells and threescore and ten palm-trees of Elim.  Then a Deacon read St. John xii. 12-19, the account of our Lord's triumphal entry.  After this the palm, yew, or willow branches being laid upon the Altar, the Priest (vested in a red silk cope) pronounced an exorcism and a blessing over them, which were followed by four Collects.  A procession then passed round the Church, singing Anthems, and distributing the branches; after which began the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  The custom is still represented in some places by decking the Church with willow-branches on Palm Sunday; and almost everywhere by the country-people bearing them in their hands as they walk out in the afternoon. 

On this day the Church has always begun to set before God and men the Gospel account of the Passion of our Lord.  In the Lectionary of St. Jerome, and in the ancient Missals of the Church of England, St. Matthew's narrative, or "The Passion according to St. Matthew," was fixed for the Gospel on Palm Sunday, that of St. Mark on Tuesday, that of St. Luke on Wednesday, and that of St. John on Good Friday. 

[The Passion was said in a very remarkable manner, and is printed accordingly in the Salisbury Missal.  Instead of the whole being said by the Gospeller, it was apportioned among three persons, apparently choir-men.  Those words which were spoken by the Jews or the disciples had the letter 'a' prefixed, and were directed to be sung or said (cantariant pronuntiari) by an alto voice; the words of our Lord were marked "b," and to be sung by a bass voice; those of the Evangelist "m," to be sung by a tenor (media).  This singular custom was observed in reading the Passion from each of the four Evangelists; and is still kept up abroad.] 

Until 1661 the 26th and 27th chapters of St. Matthew were still read for the Gospel on Palm Sunday, and the 18th and 19th of St. John on Good Friday; but a marginal note in Sancroft's writing is appended to both these days in the Durham book, directing the first chapter to be left out in each case, because it is appointed to be read in the Second Lesson. 

The distinguishing characteristic of this day in the last week of our Lord's life is not represented in any of the Scriptures for the day, which are altogether occupied with our Lord's Passion.  This arises from the change made in 1549, when the service for the Benediction of the Palms was set aside (in which this characteristic of the day was fully commemorated), and only the Ancient Mass of the day (which was commemorative of the Passion) retained.  This oversight is to be regretted, as there is clearly a connection between the usage of palm-bearing and the Divine ritual, both of Sinai and the New Jerusalem.  One of God's commands to the Jews was, "Ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days." [Lev. xxiii. 40]  And in the Revelation St. John writes, "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands."  [Rev. vii. 9.]