PLEASE, DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR PALMS. Many Catholics do not understand the significance of palms or, sadder still, do not know what to do with palms when they get dried and faded. Palms have an importance and, happily, several Catholic media outlets are explaining it. Palm Sunday thus marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent. The palms are blessed on Palm Sunday and are used in the procession of the day, then taken home by the faithful and used as a sacramental. They were preserved in prominent places in the house.
In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Again at the end of the Bible, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus (Revelation 7:9). In the Roman Catholic Church, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergillum- a Christian liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water- outside the church building in an event called the "blessing of palms" if using palm leaves (or in cold climates in the narthex-an entrance hall leading to the nave of a church- when Easter falls early in the year). A solemn procession also takes place, and often includes the entire congregation.
The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the color of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city to fulfill: His Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.
The principal ceremonies of the day are the benediction of the palms, the procession, the Mass, and during it the singing or reading of the Passion. In the five prayers which are prayed over the palms the priest asks God to bless the branches of palm or olive:
· that they may be a protection to all places into which they may be brought;
· that the right hand of God may expel all adversity, bless and protect all who dwell in them, who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ;
· makes reference to the dove bringing back the olive branch to Noah's ark and to the multitude greeting Our Lord;
· say that the branches of palms signify victory over the prince of death and...
· that the olive signifies the advent of spiritual unction through Christ.
The officiating clergyman sprinkles the palms with holy water, incenses them, and, after another prayer, distributes them. During the distribution the choir sings an appropriate hymn.
Then follows the procession, of the clergy and of the people, carrying the blessed palms, the choir in the meantime singing. All process out of the church, or, in inclement weather, around the inside of the church. On the return of the procession the choir leads a hymn, at the end of which Mass is celebrated, the principal feature of which is the singing or reading of the Passion according to St. Matthew, during which all hold the palms in their hands.
These ceremonies have remained principally intact since medieval times, when, following the Roman custom, a procession composed of the clergy and laity carrying palms moved from a chapel or shrine outside the town, where the palms were blessed, to the cathedral or main church. Our Lord was represented in the procession, either by the Blessed Sacrament or by a crucifix, adorned with flowers, carried by the celebrant of the Mass. Later, in the Middle Ages, a quaint custom arose of drawing a wooden statue of Christ sitting on a donkey (the whole image on wheels) in the center of the procession. These statues (Palm Donkey; Palmesel) are still seen in museums of many European cities.
The palms are saved in many churches to be burned on Shrove Tuesday the following year to make ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Catholic Church considers the blessed palms to be sacramentals. Having been blessed by a priest (sacramental) they carry a certain spiritual significance and power.
A sacramental is a material object, thing or action set apart or blessed to manifest the respect due to the Sacraments and so to excite pious thoughts and to increase devotion to God when used with devotion.
After celebrating Palm Sunday, parishioners return home with several palms and are often unsure how to properly display or otherwise hold onto them. Because these palms are sacramentals, they cannot be thrown away. They must either be burned or buried to be disposed of correctly.
Growing up, I often saw palms getting carelessly thrown away in order to make room for the new ones about to come into the house. Sadly, the significance of palms was not well-known to the laity of the Church in previous generations.