Yesterday’s news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign shook the world. Today marks Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the final day before Lent begins.
Tomorrow, the Universal Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Ash Wednesday, the annual opening of the prayerful and penitential season of Lent.
What do palms have to do with Ash Wednesday?
Pastor of Our Lady of Loreto Church in Foxfield, Colorado, Monsignor Edward L. Buelt explained that Catholic ritual calls for the burning of old palms from last year’s Palm Sunday to render ashes that mark Catholics on this year’s Ash Wednesday.
“We collect the old palms on Palm Sunday, the same day we distribute the new ones,” said Monsignor Buelt, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“I entrust the old palms to the Boy Scouts of our parish, who then burn them in a prayerful ceremony. They collect the ashes and bring them back to us for Ash Wednesday of any given new Lent.”
"and unto dust you shall return"
On Ash Wednesday, Monsignor Buelt and Catholic priests around the world with draw the shape of a cross on the foreheads of believers to mark them with the sign of faith. The ashes remind Catholics of the mortal's humble human nature as dust. Priests recite a traditional line “Remember…that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” as they make the palm ash sign of the cross upon each person. This poignant reminder of mortality might feel especially appropriate for gardeners, who understand firsthand the cycles of life and death in the garden.
“What is nice about it is that the people are signed with ashes on Ash Wednesday that were their own palms the previous year,” Monsignor Buelt said.
What do palms have to do with Easter?
Deacon Dick Bowles in the Diocese of Colorado Springs said, "Many parishes collect last year's palms from parishioners and then burn them to create the ashes that we use for Ash Wednesday."
Catholics use fresh palms in Palm Sunday liturgy to commemorate the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, when people welcomed their Messiah by waving palms.
The deacon noted the Catholic significance of the palms to Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Easter. "The palms are used on Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion to recreate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem," he said.
"The cheers quickly turned to jeers. The people cried, 'Crucify Him' when he was on trial before Pontius Pilate. So we burn the palms and use them to remind ourselves that we are sinners as they are imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday."
From palms to Easter lilies
The season of Lent leads to Easter, the holiest day in the Catholic liturgical year. The Catholic calendar determines the date of Easter according to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox.
Easter often is associated with Easter lilies. For more about Easter lilies, click on these links:
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You grow your garden; your garden grows you." •••
• Colleen Smith's gift book "Laid-Back Skier" makes a sweet Easter gift! This whimsical, inspirational book includes lots of ski bunnies and encouragement for life's ups and downs. Watch "Laid-Back Skier's" brief YouTube video here.
• Colleen Smith’s first novel, “Glass Halo”—a finalist for the 2010 Santa Fe Literary Prize — is available in hardcover or e—book.
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