The palm branch is a symbol of martyrdom

Published: March 22, 2018

"Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding (Jesus) as well as those following kept crying out: 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!'" — Mark 11:8-10

On Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday, Catholics reenact the events of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem to mark the beginning of Holy Week, which commemorates the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, who triumphed over death and made our salvation possible.

The reason it is called Passion Sunday becomes evident as the tone of the Mass radically changes with the reading of Christ's passion and death as the Gospel for the day. The stark contrast between the people first welcoming Jesus and then turning on him, calling for his crucifixion, stands out in the experience of this feast day. Palms were used in Jewish tradition to celebrate triumph or victory. For Christians, the palm branch became a symbol of martyrdom.

Even the words used to praise Jesus as he entered Jerusalem have deeper meaning. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the word "hosanna" means "save" or "give salvation." This term along with the acclamation, "blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord," is used during the Sanctus (Holy, Holy) of every Mass. It concludes the preface to the Eucharistic prayer "that introduces the memorial of the Lord's Passover. (no. 559)

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor will celebrate Palm Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock at 12:05 p.m. Sunday, March 25. 

The blessed palm frond that everyone receives at this Mass is a sacramental to take home. Traditionally Catholics keep their palms near or behind a crucifix, on a prayer altar or with their Bible. Keeping the palm serves as a reminder to remember Jesus' Passion and follow in his footsteps to carry the crosses in our own lives. Catholics are asked to bring their palms back a year later to be burned so the ashes can be used on Ash Wednesday to begin Lent anew. 

For those who don't return their palms to be burned for Ash Wednesday and want to dispose of them properly, the same rule applies as with any blessed object. They should never be disposed of in the trash. The proper way is by burning or burial. With blessed palms, it would be appropriate to bury them in a flower garden at your home. From medieval times, people have believed that blessed palms formed into the shape of a cross would protect them from danger. To learn more, see the symbolism of palms in the ancient world or learn how to make a palm cross.