The beautiful ceremony of the blessing and distributing of Palm is performed as a remembrance of our Saviour’s entry into Jerusalem a few days before his death.
As he approached the city of Jerusalem a great throng came forth to meet Him. Perhaps, some went out to meet Him in a spirit of mere curiosity. They wanted to take a look at the far-farmed Prophet and Wonder Worker. Others came because they hoped to see some evidence of His miraculous power. Yet others came because they believed in Him and recognized Him as long expected Redeemer.
The Gospels tell us that the people of Jerusalem conducted Jesus triumph through the city gate, spreading their garments before Him as a mark of homage, and that they went before Him in a joyful procession, carrying palms and chanting Hosannas of praise. It must be emphasized that the Eastern palm which they used is the date tree. The date tree itself forms distinctive features of the very early oriental scene. The date palm is symbolic of a graceful and inspiring sight.
The Palm itself is emblematic of victory. The custom of using it denotes triumph and joy. Also, among pagan nations, victorious generals and conquering armies decked themselves with the spreading of branches of the palm tree in their triumphant procession.
Among the Jews, the palm was used to express rejoicing, especially for the celebration of the harvest known as the Feast of Tabernacle.
In Christian art, the palm branch is often introduced in pictures of martyred saints to signify victory which they have gained and the triumph they are enjoying.
Also, since the palm is a shade tree and produce fruits, it symbolises well the protection of Divine Providence and the giving of peace. The genuine oriental date palm is the most suitable for the Palm Sunday. But its non- availability in many parts of the world led the church to allow the use of other kinds of branches. These, the church states categorically in its rule of Missal that they buy off “Palm or olive or other trees”.
Palm are blessed and distributed to the faithful on only one day of the year. This is on Palm Sunday. Uncertainty surrounds the origin of this beautiful customs of the church. The nearest we can claim is that it was practised in the early C5. It was in the year 700 that something concrete about origin of the custom was put forth by Venerable Bede, and English Saint.
All that we can safely say is that the use of palms began in the miracle plays or reproductions of the Passion of Our Lord which were common in the early middle ages. The palm ceremony which takes place before the High Mass has been considerably simplified in the reformed liturgy. Processions follow the blessings of the palms. It is a public testimony of love and gratitude to Christ the King. It is homage to Him who is entering upon death for us all. In it, the congregation is invited to not only walk, but also to sing. Violet vestments are worn for mass. The entire ceremony typifies homage to Christ the triumphant. There is no longer any artificial separation between passion and gospel. The last gospel has been suppressed. The palms which have not been distributed are preserved until the following year and being then dry are burned to obtain the ashes for the ceremony of the Ash Wednesday.
It is on this Ash Wednesday that the Ashes are placed on our foreheads with the solemn admonition to remember that we are dust and shall return to dust. The ceremony of the Palm Sunday impresses upon us the stern truth that only by keeping ever in mind our last end and preparing for it that we may hope to win the palm of victory.
*Celestine Ofuani writes from Asaba