In memory of our Saviour’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, when the multitude strewed palm branches before Him, for which reason the Church, on this day, blesses palms, and carries them in procession.
Why are palms blessed? That those who carry them with devotion, or keep them in their houses, may receive protection of soul and body, as prayed for in the blessing; that those who carry the palms may, by means of the prayers of the Church, adorn their souls with good works and thus, in spirit, meet the Saviour; that, through Christ whose members we are, we may conquer the kingdom of death and darkness, and be made worthy to share in His glorious resurrection and triumphant entrance into heaven. St. Augustine writes of the palms: “They are the emblem of praise, and sign of victory, because the Lord by death conquered death, and with the sign of victory, the cross, overcame the devil, the prince of death.”
Therefore, preceded by the cross, we go in procession around the church singing hymns of praise; when we come to the church door, we find it locked; the priest knocks at it with the cross. Heaven was closed to us by the sin of Adam, and it is opened to us by reconciliation through Jesus on the cross.
According to Dom Prosper Gueranger:
At the close of the Procession, a ceremony takes place which is full of the sublimest symbolism. On returning to the church, the doors are found to be shut. The triumphant Procession is stopped, but the songs of joy are continued. A hymn in honor of Christ our King is sung with its joyous chorus and at length the Subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the cross, the door opens and the people, preceded by the clergy, enter the church proclaiming the praise of Him who is our Resurrection and our Life.
This ceremony is intended to represent the entry of Jesus into that Jerusalem, of which the earthly one was but the figure, the Jerusalem of heaven, which has been opened for us by our Savior. The sin of our first parents had shut it against us, but Jesus the King of glory opened its gates by his Cross, to which every resistance yields. Let us then continue to follow in the footsteps of the Son of David for he is also the Son of God and he invites us to share his Kingdom with him.
To move us to compassion for the suffering Redeemer, the Church, in the person of Christ, cries in lamenting tones at the Introit:
O Lord, remove not Thy help to a distance from me, look towards my defence: save me from the lion’s mouth, and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns. O God, my God! look on me, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins. O Lord! Remove not, &c. (Ps. XXI.)
Sources: “The Church’s Year” by Father Goffine.
“The Liturgical Year”, Dom Prosper Gueranger.
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