Posted by: L. E. Barnes | March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

We have begun Holy Week. Today, Palm Sunday, commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The Gospels record that the people of the city laid their cloaks and palm branches along the road for Jesus as he rode into the city on a donkey; hence, we have the custom of distributing palm fronds in church on this day. Luke 19:28-40 was read by the priest during the blessing of the palm fronds, and Luke’s account of Jesus’ trial and passion (22:14-23:56) was read during the mass. Not only was this gospel reading very lengthy, unlike the readings during a typical mass, but others beside the priest participated in the reading. A man and woman stood at the ambo, and he read the narrative while she read the statements of individuals such as Pontius Pilate and Peter. The priest read the statements of Jesus, and the congregation read the statements of the crowd. At the point in the account where Jesus dies, we all knelt for a moment in contemplation.

Our priest remarked during his homily that the palm fronds should be treated respectfully. Children, he observed, will often want to play with them, or even swat or poke others with them. And one time a woman told him she would burn them during storms so that the house wouldn’t be struck by lightning! These are all inappropriate uses. The Little Black Book explains:

Palms are sacramentals and it is usually recommended that blessed sacramentals be burned rather than simply thrown away. Sometimes, a parish will invite parishioners to donate their old palms. The palms are then burned and the ashes are used on Ash Wednesday the following year.

What is a sacramental? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sacramentals are “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church.” [171]

Because our mass was a little longer than usual, I was about twenty minutes late for the catechumenate class. They discussed today’s scripture readings, especially the responsorial psalm, which begins with words that Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We probably all feel abandoned by God at times. I certainly have. Those are definitely times that try our faith, but Jesus has been through it too.

The class divided into two groups, as they did last week, to discuss how everyone was doing this Lent. Some shared about giving up caffeinated beverages or some other pleasure. One young lady said she was trying to let the Lord guide her in her prayer life, such as by simply staying silent and contemplating Him rather than always presenting petitions. Others talked about laying aside favorite foods, especially “carbs.” A lady in the group talked about how hard it has been for her to give up caffeine–she’s literally been going through caffeine withdrawal, complete with headaches and twitches! She said she was “really looking forward to my Dr. Pepper” once Lent ended. One fellow had given up swearing. (I remarked that he really should give that up permanently, which led to a short discussion about whether swearing was ever acceptable. Using the name of God or Jesus Christ is definitely unacceptable, it was pointed out. Using four-letter words, on the other hand, seems to be a matter of personal conscience. However, I would add something C. S. Lewis said on the issue: using “dirty words” can be uncharitable to your listeners. So maybe the best rule is to keep in mind the sensibilities of the people you’re talking to. In my humble opinion, anyway…) One of the class members made the excellent comment that going through the cravings or other struggles as they fast during Lent helps remind them of why they are fasting in the first place: to grow spiritually. There are other benefits as well, from becoming healthier to cultivating self-discipline. They learn that they CAN do it!

The two groups came back together for closing prayer. Last week we passed around a lighted candle, with people mentioning prayer requests (or “intentions” as we typically say in the Catholic Church) when the candle was passed to them. This time we didn’t have a candle, so we used the palm frond I had gotten before 8:00 mass that morning. May the Lord grant us our petitions.

Reminder: Good Friday is almost here. Our parish will observe the stations of the cross outside (weather permitting), as we do every year on Good Friday, starting at 12:15 pm.

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