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March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday

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We all know Palm Sunday as the Mass where we get palm leaves and we have our own lines during the gospel reading. It’s kind of fun to have the palms to do organic origami, folding them into crosses or braiding and weaving them into something more complex. Or, let’s be honest, simply to tickle our brother’s ear. Once home, many are unsure what to do with the palms. They’ve been blessed, so is it Ok to throw them away? Or is there a favorite place to hang them? The other part of this Sunday’s liturgy that many find memorable is having scripted parts in the gospel reading. But why do we get the uncomfortable lines, like “Give us Barabbas!” and “Crucify him!”? These two obvious, memorable pieces of Palm Sunday Mass lead me to reflect on two realities many Catholics overlook.

First, the blessed palms. Beyond their use in the liturgy of Palm Sunday, what is the point and what are we to do with these “souvenirs”? During the liturgy, the palms are used as a display to welcome and celebrate Christ as King of our lives. Afterwards, being blessed, the palms become more than “souvenirs”, they are now “sacramentals”. Sacramentals are sacred signs that “signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” (CCC 1667; Sacrosanctum concilium 60.) “[T]hey prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” (CCC 1670. Visit the Catechism, paragraphs 1667-1679, for more on sacramentals.) That doesn’t mean that your palms are now magical; but, in a very real way, they can effectively remind us of our allegiance to our King. That should be the purpose of keeping them around the home. (Well, that, plus the bonus side-effect that demons don’t like to be around blessed
objects.)

Should you choose to get rid of them, keep in mind that anything blessed formally in the way that these palms are become, in a special way, dedicated to God, and should be returned to Him. The normal disposal of any blessed object is to bury or burn it. Palms are often burned to be used as the ashes for Ash Wednesday.

Second- a reflection on having lines to say in the Mass. At first, it seems notable on Palm Sunday because there aren’t any other times that the congregation “acts out” part of the Gospel reading. But, when we stop to think about it, we have lines, a scripted part, if you will, in every Mass. “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people,” have a right and an obligation by reason of their Baptism.” (CCC 1141; Sacrosanctum concilium 14; cf. 1 Pet 2:9; 2:4-5.) And yet, how often do we find our minds wandering during the mystical reality of the Mass? So what’s an average person with a limited attention span and active imagination to do? St. Francis de Sales, St. Ignatius, and many other spiritual giants taught their spiritual students to prepare for those moments when they foresaw temptation or weakness. Know yourself, plan ahead. One solution can be to find active ways to re-engage during the liturgy. Use the images, statues, and stain glass windows that fill our churches as catalysts and reminders of holy things. Use that active imagination to consider the angels and saints present. Learn the meanings of your “lines” so you can say them more intently. And, most of all, be consciously present to the sacrifice being represented right in front of you.

There are far more things taking place in reality than we are conscious of at any moment. Part of the wisdom of the Church is to use our physical senses as pointers to invisible realities. That is precisely the role of sacramentals, and sacraments do the same while truly conferring grace. Our role is not passive. It is to actively cooperate with the graces being offered at any moment.

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