Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the day the faithful reflects on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
There are contradicting emotions that come with religious reflections on the meaning of Palm Sunday. There’s happiness in the manner Jesus is welcomed by a large crowd. “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:12-13).
But there’s great sadness that later in the week He was arrested and crucified. Let us contemplate the meaning of that through the homily of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) about Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, recorded in Simply Catholic:
“How different the cries, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him,’ and then, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna, in the highest!’ How different the cries are that now are calling him ‘King of Israel’ and then in a few days’ time will be saying, ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ What a contrast between the green branches and the cross, between the flowers and the thorns! Before they were offering their own clothes for him to walk upon, and so soon afterwards they are stripping him of his, and casting lots upon them.”
Today, the faithful commemorates Palm Sunday with rituals that started toward the end of the fourth century in Jerusalem. Those are described by a Spanish pilgrim named Egeria who visited Jerusalem and recorded how Christians re-created the events of Holy Week. “She wrote that they gathered outside the city on the Sunday before Easter and listened to one of the Gospels telling of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Then they marched together through the city gates while carrying olive or palm branches.”
That tradition continued into the ninth century when the procession with blessed palms reached Europe. In the 17th century Christians walked in a procession entering the churches with palm branches, and during Mass, they held the palms while the Passion of Christ was read. That ritual is practiced today in Catholic churches.
Palms are the symbol of life and victory. Nomadic tribes crossing the desert rejoice upon seeing a palm tree as it means they are near water. And in the past, armies returning from a victorious battle were welcomed as heroes by the waving of palm branches.
Today, we continue the ritual. In our country, many of the faithful sees it as tradition to bring palm branches to church for the Palm Sunday mass. Then, they bring the blessed palm branches home. Thus, the preparation of hundreds of thousands of palm branches has been transformed into a craft and a livelihood that has been passed on through generations.
Religious leaders always remind the faithful that the blessed palm branches are blessed objects or sacramentals that need to be treated reverently, not as amulets or décor.
The following year, those are burned and its ashes will be used for Ash Wednesday.
The blessed palm in our homes should be our symbol of triumph. “For us too, they [palms] must be symbols of triumph, indicative of the victory to be won in our battle against the evil in ourselves and against the evil which roams about us. As we receive the blessed palm, let us renew our pledge to conquer with Jesus, but let us not forget that it was on the cross that He conquered” (Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD).
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