Music for Palm Sunday

palm branchesTomorrow (29 March), we move into the first of our Easter services – Palm Sunday, a feast commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and mentioned in all four canonical Gospels.

According to, “The celebration of Palm Sunday originated in the Jerusalem Church, around the late fourth century. The early Palm Sunday ceremony consisted of prayers, hymns, and sermons recited by the clergy while the people walked to various holy sites throughout the city. At the final site, the place where Christ ascended into heaven, the clergy would read from the gospels concerning the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In the early evening they would return to the city reciting: “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” The children would carry palm and olive branches as the people returned through the city back to the church, where they would hold evening services.

By the fifth century, the Palm Sunday celebration had spread as far as Constantinople. Changes made in the sixth and seventh centuries resulted in two new Palm Sunday traditions – the ritual blessing of the palms, and a morning procession instead of an evening one. Adopted by the Western Church in the eighth century, the celebration received the name ‘Dominica in Palmis,’ or ‘Palm Sunday’.”

At St Francis Parkview (Johannesburg, South Africa), we also begin our service outside, and then walk around the church to the singing of “All glory, laud and honour.” This hymn was composed by St Theodulph of Orleans.

According to, the hymn is based on verses written in the early Middle Ages. The Latin original, “Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, rex Christe redemptor” was 78 lines long. It was written as a processional hymn. In the Middle Ages, it was the custom for the clergy and choir to process within the church as well as in the church square and town. St. Theodulph of Orleans wrote ‘All Glory, Laud and Honour’ while he was in prison, under suspicion of plotting against Emperor Louis I.0

“Legend has it that King Louis passed the prison during the Palm Sunday procession while Theodulph sang this hymn from his window, which so delighted the king that he was immediately liberated. However, the unfortunate truth is that he probably remained imprisoned until his death in 821, possibly of poisoning.”

There is a nice recording of this hymn which you can access by clicking here.

Others hymns for Palm Sunday are from the new edition of “Ancient and Modern” and “Lambeth Praise”:

You are the King of glory (no 164);

God is here! As we his people (no 445, tune Blaenwern, one of the great Welsh hymn tunes, played on  the organ of All Saints Church Osytermouth Swansea, or listen to a massed Welsh male voice choir sing it here);

  • Let us break bread together on our knees;
  • My Lord, what love is this (listen to this modern recording on YouTube by clicking here);
  • Glory be to Jesus (no 142); and
  • Ride on, ride on in majesty! (no 161. There is a wonderful recording on YouTube by King’s College, in the unbelievable accoustics of this magnificent chapel, which you can access by clicking here.

Hope to see (and hear!) you at St Francis at 9.00am on Palm Sunday (29 March 2015)

– Ruth Coggin, Director of Music

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