Why do we use palm branches on Palm Sunday?

Palm Sunday

I think your average Catholic is more likely to be able to make a perfectly folded cross out of their palm branch than they are to be able to explain why they have a palm branch in the first place. The trick is getting the ends neatly criss-crossed and wrapped around the center and then tucked in tightly.

It feels good to walk out of mass with a well made palm-cross. You know…one that doesn’t start unraveling as soon as you let go of it. And, besides, the kids love it.

We might be selling our kids (and ourselves) a bit short, though. While you are fiddling around folding palm branches and feeling especially proud of what could quite possibly be the best palm-cross you’ve ever made, you are missing out on something much more worthwhile. [photo credit]

Step back into the moment of the first Palm Sunday.

You’ve heard that the Messiah has come. You’ve heard of the great miracles he has been performing. Perhaps you’ve witnessed one yourself! Centuries of prophesy is coming to pass in front of your eyes. The king who is to deliver your people from political oppression and redeem Israel has finally arrived. The time has come. And this Messiah is now riding into your town.

You sprint into your backyard to your palm tree and quickly tear off some branches (as these were signs of victory and triumph). You give one to each member of your family as you all begin to sprint out to the road to meet Him. When you get there you find a huge crowd of people, also with palm branches, waving them in the air and cheering this Messiah along. An instinctual impulse takes hold of you as you grab your cloak and spread it out on the road ahead of Him. Hundreds of others follow your lead rolling out a royal ‘red carpet’ of cloaks and palm branches for your King.

Suddenly a song rises up from the crowd: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” You sing along with great joy as you escort this Messiah all the way into town, waiving your palm branches and proclaiming Him your King.

Now that’s Palm Sunday. It’s an adventure. It’s a participation in a real event in history.

Of course now, in hindsight, we know that this King’s kingdom was not one of this world but of the next. And that the red carpet we lay for him we would make red with His own blood. Yet, we cheer Him along all the more in anticipation of His most important triumph of all – His triumph over death itself on Easter.

5 comments Add comment

Karina March 29, 2010 at 1:09 pm

That is funny about folding the cross thing… Actually I’m originally from Europe and we didn’t use palm branches over there, but instead we had pussy-willow branches. Now I’m in the U.S. and see a lot of those crosses folded from palms and I wonder how they do them! Is there anywhere I can learn to do it?

Lucy March 31, 2010 at 11:34 am

Here is a link for how to make a palm cross: http://www.fisheaters.com/customslent11.html
Hope this helps!

Angela Marie Sutton March 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm

It was a very web site, but tell one thing I am looking for and that is When did the Palm cross actually start? I know all about Palm brunches were used with Jesus ride into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday.

SO can you tell when did the Palm cross (as we know it) came into being.

Erin March 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I got really confused yesterday with our Palm Sunday Mass. It may just be a case of slippery memory but it seems like when I was a kid Palm Sunday was very joyful. We made floats as Sunday School classes out of wagons and processed to the church singing King of Kings and Lord of Lords and the priest went all the way around the church blessing the palms with a train of kids and adults behind him waving palms and it was all about the glory and majesty of the Mesiah. Yesterday it seems like almost all of that spirit was skipped. We picked up palms at the entrance of the church, Father sprinkled holy water from the altar and then it seemed like we jumped straight into the Passion reading without singing Hosanna except where it usually is in the Mass and no homily. What happened? I thought that part of the story didn’t start until Thursday then Friday.

Marc Cardaronella April 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm

It’s kind of true. I felt the same way. There’s more emphasis on the Passion than the Palms. And no one was waving palms at our Mass either except me and my kids. They enjoyed it though.

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