Catholic PSA for Palm Sunday: Treat Blessed Palms with Reverence
Originally published in 2015, I think it helps to have an annual reminder.
Public Service Announcement: The palms we receive on Palm Sunday are blessed objects or sacramentals that need to be treated reverently, not as toys, mere craft material or trash.
Every Palm Sunday I just cringe because the blessed palms are abused and such a distraction during Mass. The sound of palms being ripped apart is similar to me like the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard. There are all sorts of pieces of palms on the pews and floor. And as for the rest of the palms, they often become an object of play, or part of a distracting craft project during the Mass.
We are asked to hold up the palms during the sprinkling and procession. After Father prays the Collect, the blessed palms are no longer necessary during the rest of the Mass. The palms should be put in a place in the pew so they are not a distraction.
The Blessing of Palms
At the beginning of Mass on Palm Sunday, the palms are blessed with either of these prayers:
Almighty ever-living God, sanctify + these branches with your blessing, that we, who follow Christ the King in exultation, may reach the eternal Jerusalem through him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever...
Increase the faith of those who place their hope in you, O God, and graciously hear the prayers of those who call on you that we we, who today hold high these branches to hail Christ in his triumph, may bear fruit for you by good works accomplished in him. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever...
After this blessing and the sprinkling of holy water, the palms are now sacramentals, or “little sacraments.” Every part of the palm is blessed, including the “strings” or thin threads that often find their way on the floor.
1677 Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
As I mentioned in my review of The Rural Life Prayerbook, any blessed object or sacramental needs to be treated with respect.
Can. 1171 Sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons (Code of Canon Law).
What Is the Purpose of the Palms?
The Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy beautifully describes the significance of the palms:
139. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday”, which unites the royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion.
The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places.Palm Sunday Palms, olive branches and other fronds. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or “Passion Sunday”, which unites the royal splendour of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion. The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character.
The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their work places. The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these cause in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.
Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.
Next year, the dried leftover palms from this Palm Sunday will be burned to ashes. Those ashes will be signed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
What to Do with the Palms?
I wrote an article years ago on some traditions related to palms. I particularly love the idea of making a small palm cross for each member of the family to wear every day during Holy Week. But please wait until after Mass.
There are cultural traditions, like palm weaving, that need to be treated with balance. Mass is not the appropriate place to craft an elaborate palm object. The crafting can happen at home. And maybe it would be better to use palms that are not blessed for testing out some weaving skills.
Other traditions, as The Directory on Popular Piety and Liturgy mentions, are not appropriate, such as burning the palms for protection against storms, or using them in fields or gardens to protect them from storms or damage.
After Palm Sunday the blessed palms, and all other worn or broken blessed sacramentals, do not belong in the trash can, but need to be either buried or burned.
So this Palm Sunday, realize the blessed palm is a sacramental and not an object for sword play, not a weaving project to do during Mass, not something to pull apart and toss onto the floor, nor something that provides power or protection.
Palm Sunday Mass is not about obtaining the palm, but participating in the Mass commemorating Christ’s entrance solemn entrance into Jerusalem, and the beginning of Holy Week and His Passion. The blessed palm is a “witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory,” a reminder of this commemoration.
For further reading on sacramentals, see:
- The Value of Sacramentals by Paul Kokoski
- The Sacramentals by Father William Most
- Sacramentals and Blessings by Father Francis X. Weiser, S.J.
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