Catholic Activity: Palms and Ashes



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Therese Mueller discusses the sacramentals of blessed palms and Ashes, used on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Included are the older blessings of ashes and of palms.


Blessed palm, taken home after the Palm Sunday procession, and kept behind the crucifix and other images, is still a familiar sight in Catholic homes. So familiar, perhaps, that it is a good thing to pause and listen to its double message.

From Palm Sunday until the next Ash Wednesday — more than three hundred days — blessed palm is our daily reminder, first, of the joyful and triumphant procession on the parish grounds when we cried: "Hosanna to the Son of David," waving blessed palms in honor of our King and Savior. Looking back to this day of solemn and public profession of faith, we trust that the blessing and protection, due to the Church''s prayer and sacrifice, will stay with us day in, day out, to be faithful and steadfast in the service of our King and his Kingdom which is to come.

But in looking back to Ash Wednesday, another thought will come to mind: it is the ashes from the blessed palm that are distributed to us in church with the words: Remember, man, that thou art dust and to dust thou wilt return. Like a leaf we too will be torn from life and wither away, returning to dust and ashes. Be prepared, do penance. amend your life, while it is still time — that is the second message of the blessed palm.

On Palm Sunday with joyful singing we distribute the palm throughout the house, either the whole branch or small crosses made from the leaves, so that each room may share in this powerful blessing [Editor''s Note: This is the pre-Vatican II blessing of palms. Below are the current blessings for the palms. Note also that the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of December 17, 2001 emphasize that the palms "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." -- JGM] :

Graciously let Thy grace and blessing rest wherever these branches are brought; with the power of Thy right hand defeat every evil influence and deception of the devil while granting Thy protection to those whom Thou hast redeemed. . . . Grant that what we, Thy people, today outwardly enact in Thy honor, we may inwardly fulfill with utmost devotion, by triumphing over the enemy and by attaching our hearts above all else to Thy merciful work of redemption.

It is a thoughtful and silent procession that on the eve of Ash Wednesday gathers the blessed palm from all rooms, pondering the real "attachment of our hearts" and the measure of our "utmost devotion" during the past year. Now the signs of triumph and Hosanna seem to change into signs of the betrayal of our loyalty, of breaking the solemn pledge; and while we watch the palm being burnt to ashes we promise that five weeks of fast and penance, of dying to self and living for God, will make us ready for another chance of waving blessed palms and professing the Kingdom of Christ.

Blessing of Palms
Passion (Palm) Sunday

Almighty God,
we pray you bless these branches
and make them holy.
Today we joyfully acclaim Jesus our Messiah and King.
May we reach one day the happines of the new and everlasting Jerusalem
by faithfully following him
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

The Sacramentary, ICEL, 1973.

Blessing of Ashes

bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness
and bless all those who receive these ashes.
May they keep this Lenten season
in preparation for the joy of Easter.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.


bless these ashes
by which we show that we are dust.
Pardon our sins
and keep us faithful to the discipline of Lent,
for you do not want sinners to die
but to live with the risen Christ,
who reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.

The Sacramentary, ICEL, 1973.

Activity Source: Little Sacraments, The: Liturgy for the Home by Therese Mueller, Conception Abbey Press, Conception, Missouri, 1961