Holy Week: Come and Pray Your Part!
Although there are clearly parallels between them, liturgy differs from drama in…well, dramatic fashion. As we begin Holy Week with the Masses on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and its vigil on Saturday, I believe it is important to reflect on the distinctiveness of our Christian liturgical tradition. We will not be handing out scripts and developing stage characters for the week. Instead, Baptism has brought us into the company of Discipleship. When we participate in liturgy, we are meant to discover more of ourselves— our authentic selves— not pretend to be some fictitious or other historical figure.
There are many fine stage and movie dramatizations of the last days of Jesus leading to his Crucifixion and Resurrection—I have watched a variety of them since childhood. Yet, they cannot effect what the liturgy effects. Every time we gather for Mass, and in a very solemn fashion in these next eight days, we are placed in the midst of the action, not in front of a screen or in a seat of a theater. Jesus who rides into Jerusalem on the donkey is in our midst, asking us to be with Him; Jesus who gathers with His disciples in the cenacle is in our midst, asking us to be with Him; Jesus who is arrested, tried, scourged and crucified is in our midst, asking us to be with Him. Jesus who is raised in glory is in our midst, asking us to be with Him.
After a performance of theatre, the actors rest. At the conclusion of Mass, we the actors are launched into life! Real action is just beginning. The action of living our lives, fortified by the grace of the sacraments and enlivened by the living Word of God, is intended to carry on throughout the week. As humans, we need less of the “drama” of contemporary idiom— that is, behavior that is unbecoming of a human being or even downright abominable! We need more ACTION THAT REFLECTS THE MYSTERY OF SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE! That is what liturgy teaches...that is what liturgy demands.
Because they have been blessed by a priest and therefore, have become holy objects (sacramentals), the palm branches used in celebration of Palm Sunday, should not be disposed of in the regular fashion. Once an object is blessed, it is considered to be in the service of God and should be treated with respect. Therefore, it is considered sacrilegious to throw a holy item in the garbage, where it might end up in a sewer or a landfill.
If you choose to take your palm home, it may be kept as a holy item. Palms can be kept and displayed as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ our messianic king and in is Paschal Victory. If you wish to dispose of it, you may bury it or burn it and spread the ashes outside. Each year during lent, our parish collects last years’ palms and burn them. Ashes are saved to use for the Ash Wednesday service of the following year to be signed on our foreheads.