4 April 2009

Palm Crosses

Since we're now celebrating Palm Sunday, or at least we are about to be, I thought I'd share some thoughts about a dying tradition, probably due to creeping secularism. When I was a child (yes, I know, it was long ago) one of the pleasures of this time of year was my grandmother folding the palms into crosses. In those days we went to church for Mass and were duly issued with our palm leaves of about 2 feet length. Generally, they were very flexible and were great to wave about. I remember you always tried to get the longest one you could. You really got the spirit of waving your palms as Jesus rode by on his donkey. Not that we actually had a reenactment with donkey; but you get my drift.

Today, what do we do? We have palms, but sadly they are, all too often, in the shape of the cross. It makes no sense to wave a cross at Jesus whilst shouting Hosanna. Fr Peter says

And this weekend, as we hold our Palm Crosses, which at the same time represent both the cheers and jeers of the crowds, we share in this hard road which leads
to his victory.
So I can see that there is justification for the palm in the shape of the cross. It's also true to say that after the entry into Jerusalem, the liturgy turns clearly toward the passion. I'm sure this is why the priest where's red also, to show the blood of the passion, which looms ominously ahead. Knowing what is to come, whilst living the moment again and again, as it were.

I cannot help, however, but think that my gran had the right idea. We wave our palm for the procession and then, when we are leaving, we are firmly set on the cross becoming the symbol of our salvation. So we turn our palm into a cross, pin it to our door, and then remind ourselves, every day, that Christ died for our sins that we might be saved.

This, then, is the problem. If I gave you a two foot palm, would you be able to fold it into a cross? I know, for sure, that I couldn't do it myself. So what do we do? We buy them already folded. Maybe we justify it by saying they're from a particularly good cause, some charity or other. Maybe we see the symbolism in waving the means of our salvation at Jesus upon his entry to Jerusalem; as though he doesn't know this already. I think he probably does.

A modern approach to our problem of having long palms that we can then not fold would be, of course, to go out and buy them already folded? Do you, like me, think this is what happened? Perhaps my growing up, and our tradition, was different to your growing up, and your tradition. Maybe you always had palms folded into crosses. Maybe somebody in your parish spent hours folding up the palms before Sunday. Or maybe, just maybe, like me, your gran taught you.

There was a time I could fold a palm, I think, but now I can't. I stayed away from the Church, I let the secular ways creep in, and now I'm surprised that I cannot fold a palm leaf. How tragic is that? Well, I'm not entirely railing against the modern ways. In fact, I went to the most modern of ways, to the Internet and googled it. I found this website, which has a guide to folding a palm! Trust the good old scouts to be prepared. Sacred Heart in Sittingbourne also have an excellent page, here. (click on the picture to enlarge it)

I also made a decision, I'm going to encourage the parish, of which I'm entrusted in the future, to use long palms and to fold them ourselves. Join me in bringing back our tradition.


  1. That's how I've folded my palms over the years. They always tend to come out wonky though (the folds always look like they need ironing - although I'm not sure how good that would be for the palm leaf itself or how feasible it would be to take an iron along to the church!) and the leaves never seem to be long enough these days.

    Now, in my garden I have some fantastic palm-like decorative plants (those spikey cordylines which come in all different shades and whose leaves are just right)... would it be acceptable to snip a leaf or two and come along with my own palm? Or a: is it required that the palm leaf is of a specific genus or b: should the leaf be supplied by the church? Would bringing one's own palm be entering more into the spirit perhaps? Your thoughts would be appreciated.

  2. What a wonderfully, exciting thought. Bring out your palms. After all, scripture says: and others spread leafy branches
    that they had cut from the fields. Now, I think your own garden must surely count as 'from the fields'; don't you think?
    One of the things I really, really love about our faith, is that it is intrinsically and unashamedly practical. So, let's all start using our own palms! At Oscott, over recent years, we have burnt our own 'old palms' to for ashing on Ash Wednesday.

  3. I have a palmy tree too...thanks for the picture to tell me how to fold them nicely, I will try!!!

  4. I've heard of parishes which encourage parishioners to bring their own 'palms' - any suitable branches. I notice that the prayer of blessing in the Missal refers only to 'branches' (though the rubric talks of palm branches). Interestingly too, only John's Gospel mentions palms, and Luke doesn't seem to mention branches at all! Never really noticed this before.

    Of course, it is only practical to bring your own branches if you actually have a garden. Here is the City Centre of Stoke on Trent many parishioners are not so blessed ... though some of them do have allotments.

    As to whether we should not order the ready-made crosses but just hand out the leaves, well I'm not sure how that would go down. So many people like to take the crosses to the sick and to non-catholic friends and neighbours it would not be welcomed by everyone. But on the other hand, I think the Palm Cross does remove us from the actual event we celebrate. Like many of our symbolic actions there is sometimes a tendency to reduce them and contain them.
    Ah! Food for thought!

  5. Lots to be thinking about, then. Today, during our 'procession', I was a disappointed to see no waving of palms at all. Many, many people seemed to have great armfuls of the things (one assumes to take to neighbours and the like) but not a whisp of waving at all. Very disappointing, but then that is the modern world, I suppose.

  6. So it's not the turnout of worshippers your debating, not the quality of the worshipping, but the manner? Ummm...just a thought, but was anyone in you procession asked if they wanted to wave their palms? Was there place in the procession allowed so that people could feel comfortable with their on masse palm waving? An irreverent example to demonstrate aspects of crowd control methinks!

  7. actually I meant 'en masse' but you get the point

  8. Good point, violet, good point. It is always difficult to accurately judge the quality of worship and I don't think this is, necessarily, a good thing to do. The 'crowd' were not encouraged to wave branches, other than they'd just heard the Gospel saying this is what happened to Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. When the Passion was read, there was, with gusto, the cry "crucify him!". What are we to make of this?

  9. Arrgh! The creating of palm crosses. This is the stuff of which nightmares are made! I hope you have a very holy and happy Holy Week and Easter.



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