Palms are sacramentals
of the Church distributed to the faithful on Palm
Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) -- the day that commemorates Christ's
entry into Jerusalem. Their purpose is to honor Christ's glory and Kingship,
as did the inhabitants of Jerusalem who met Him, strewing palm branches on
the street before Him.
Carrying palms (or olive or willow branches, etc., if palms aren't available)
in procession goes way back into the Old Testament, where it was not only
approved but commanded by God at the very foundation of the Old Testament
religion. In the fall of the year, after the harvest, when the people gathered
for the Feast of Tabernacles God said in Leviticus 23:40:
And you shall
take to you on the first day the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches
of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook: And you
shall rejoice before the Lord your God.
Again we read of
palms in the II Machabees 10:6-8:
And they kept
eight days with joy, after the manner of the feast of the tabernacles,
remembering that not long before they had kept the feast of the tabernacles
when they were in the mountains, and in dens like wild beasts. Therefore
they now carried boughs and green branches and palms, for him that had given
them good success in cleansing his place. And they ordained by a common statute,
and decree, that all the nation of the Jews should keep those days every
And in the 7th
chapter of the Apocalypse, we see that those who were "sealed" are seen by
John carrying palms:
After this, I saw a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations
and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight
of the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. And they
cried with a loud voice, saying: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the
throne and to the Lamb.
The palms are blessed
before the High Mass on Palm Sunday. Vested in red cope and standing at the
Epistle side of the Altar, the priest recites a short prayer, and then reads
lesson from the book of Exodus which tells of the children of Israel
coming to Elim on their way to the Promised Land, where they found a fountain
and seventy palm trees. It was at Elim that God sent them manna.
After a few verses from the New Testament, the priest reads the story of
Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Sunday before His death, and
about how the people put palms in the Savior's path and sang hosannas because,
ironically, they expected a temporal victory by the One they thought would
be the great military leader who would conquer the Romans..
Then we pray, begging God that we may in the end go meet Christ, that we
may enter with Him into the eternal Jerusalem. The following preface and
prayers ask God to bless the palms, that they may be sanctified and may be
a means of grace and divine protection to those who carry them and treasure
them with faith.
The palms are distributed to the people at the Communion rail. The priest
will press the palm against your lips so you can kiss it, and then his hand.
Alternatively, the palms may be handed out by the altar boys. In any case,
Scripture and prayers follow, and then a procession of clergy, servers, and
people through the church or outside around the church.
Some of these same palm branches are saved and burned
the next year to make the ashes for the next
Ash Wednesday -- the palms, which symbolize
triumph, and the ashes, which sympbolize death and penitence, forming a great
symbolic connection between suffering and victory.
The branches given to the faithful are held in the hand at the singing or
reading of the Passion and the Gospel during the Mass, but when Mass is finished
we take them home and hang them over crucifixes
or holy pictures. Men will sometimes wear a piece
of it in their hats or pin it to their lapels, and a piece should also be
placed with one's sick call set.
It is custom to break off a piece of the palm and -- while praying to
St. Barbara (or
St. Walburga) for her intercession, and
lighting a blessed candle (especially one blessed at
Candlemas) -- burn it for protection
against storms. I offer this prayer against storms from the Pieta prayerbook
(make the Sign of the Cross at each + sign):
Jesus Christ a
King of Glory has come in Peace.+ God became man, + and the Word was made
flesh.+ Christ was born of a Virgin.+ Christ suffered.+ Christ was crucified.+
Christ died.+ Christ rose from the dead.+ Christ ascended into Heaven.+ Christ
conquers.+ Christ reigns.+ Christ commands.+
May Christ protect us from all storms and lightning. + Christ went through
their midst in Peace, + and the Word was made Flesh.+ Christ is with us with
Mary.+ Flee you enemy spirits because the Lion of the Generation of Juda,
the Root David, has won.+ Holy God! + Holy Powerful God! + Holy Immortal
God! + Have mercy on us. Amen.
is to shape the palm into Latin Crosses
1 before hanging them (for instructions,
see the Palm Sunday page).
The next year, when we get new palms, the old palms are burned and their
1 There's another type of Cross that is woven by Catholics
-- St. Brigid's Crosses (see picture at right). They are made on St. Brigid's
Feast Day (1 February) out of rushes or reeds and hung on the inside of the
front door of one's house, especially in Irish Catholic homes. They are left
there all year and replaced the next St. Brigid's Day. St. Brigid's Crosses
have their origin in the fact that a dying chieftan asked St. Brigid about
a Cross she was shaping out of reeds. In explaining her gesture, she told
him the story of Christ, and he converted. For instructions on how to make
a St. Brigid's Cross, see the page on the
Feast of St. Brigid.