Palms and Psalms

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” Matthew 21:9).

On Sunday, I watched the mass streamed online from home – it was beautiful! I have to say though I missed receiving my palm branch. I recall as a child the Palm Sunday procession, waving palms and then afterwards returning home to make palm crosses. I never quite managed to get my cross to look like those you see in the designs of today. However, it was a proud moment when my palm actually resembled a cross! I have in the past made palm crosses with my own children and I just think its one of those special traditions you never forget.

Although we may not have palms to wave this Easter, as we have in the past, their symbolism remains a poignant reminder of the beginning of Holy week. Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, and marks the final week of our Lenten journey. The waving of palms, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, signified that the crowds viewed him as royalty, and they honored Jesus as a new leader, the promised Messiah, a great military leader and a king who would overthrow the Roman Empire. However, his Kingdom was not of this world…

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21:9. (see Psalm 118 below)

Jesus’ followers did not understand that His victory would be a far greater victory, a victory over death…

The palm branch was adopted by the early Christians as a “symbol of the victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul ” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI, 432).

Interestingly, St. Therese was buried with a palm branch that would later be found intact, after she was exhumed. (I am not sure whether this originates from Carmelite tradition, so if anyone has further information on this it would be interesting to learn more regarding this symbol).

The palms that we receive on Palm Sunday, then, are often woven into a cross; a symbolic and solemn reminder of Jesus and the Cross. He was no earthly king…his crown would not be fashioned of precious jewels but of thorns…

…However, His kingdom will have no end…

This Lent, I will not be weaving a cross from a palm branch but will be weaving my way through the beautiful tapestry of the Psalms – beautiful prayers and songs such as Psalm 118, where the Psalmist writes: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Psalm 118

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say,
    “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
    the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
    What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to put confidence in princes.

All nations surrounded me;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
    they blazed like a fire of thorns;
    in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
    but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
    the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
 I shall not die, but I shall live,
    and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
    but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
    that I may enter through them
    and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;
    the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me
    and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
    O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
    We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
    and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
    up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
    you are my God, I will extol you.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

References

Herbermann, Charles G. The Catholic Encyclopedia: an International Work of Reference … ; 15 Volumes and Index. Encyclopedia Press, 1913.