Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In the new decree “In Time of COVID-19 (II),” issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the pandemic, there is a part: “1 – Palm Sunday. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is to be celebrated within sacred buildings; in Cathedral churches the second form given in the Roman Missal is to be adopted; in parish churches and in other places the third form is to be used. ” I have a look at the third form in the Roman Missal, and there is no instruction on the blessing of the palms. I would like to know if, according to the decree, parishioners in parish churches will not be able to receive the blessed palms this year since there is no blessing of palms in the third form of entrance for Palm Sunday. Second, is it allowed for a priest to bless the palms outside the Mass? If yes, which rite could the priest follow? – MKN, Bangkok, Thailand.
A: The introduction to the rites of Palm Sunday describes the rite as follows.
“On this day the church recalls the entrance of Christ the Lord into Jerusalem to accomplish his Paschal Mystery. Accordingly, the memorial of this entrance of the Lord takes place at all Masses, by means of the procession or the Solemn entrance before the principal Mass or the Simple entrance before other Masses. The Solemn entrance, but not the procession, may be repeated before other Masses that are usually celebrated with a large gathering of people. It is desirable that, where neither the procession nor the Solemn entrance can take place, there be a sacred celebration of the Word of God on the messianic entrance and on the passion of the Lord, either on Saturday evening or on Sunday at a convenient time. “
In the missal, the first form of beginning the rites of Palm Sunday is the procession, which in the current epidemic is excluded as there is a need to avoid assemblies of people.
The rubrics for the second and third forms are:
“Second Form: The Solemn Entrance
“12. When a procession outside the church cannot take place, the entrance of the Lord is celebrated inside the church by means of a Solemn entrance before the principal Mass.
“13. Holding branches in their hands, the faithful gather either outside, in front of the church door, or inside the church itself. The priest and ministers and a representative group of the faithful go to a suitable place in the church outside the sanctuary, where at least the greater part of the faithful can see the rite.
“14. While the priest approaches the appointed place, the antiphon Hosanna or another appropriate chant is sung. Then the blessing of branches and the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem take place as above (nos. 5-7). After the gospel, the priest processes solemnly with the ministers and the representative group of the faithful through the church to the sanctuary, while the responsory as the Lord entered (no. 10) or another appropriate chant is sung.
“15. Arriving at the altar, the priest venerates it. He then goes to the chair and, omitting the introductory rites of the Mass and, if appropriate, the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy), he says the collect of the Mass, and then continues the Mass in the usual way.
“Third Form: The Simple Entrance
“16. At all other Masses of this Sunday at which the Solemn entrance is not held, the memorial of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem takes place by means of a Simple entrance.
“17. While the priest proceeds to the altar, the entrance antiphon with its psalm (no. 18) or another chant on the same theme is sung. Arriving at the altar, the priest venerates it and goes to the chair. After the Sign of the cross, he greets the people and continues the Mass in the usual way. At other Masses, in which singing at the entrance cannot take place, the priest, as soon as he has arrived at the altar and venerated it, greets the people, reads the entrance antiphon, and continues the Mass in the usual way. “
With respect to the custom of keeping blessed palms at home, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy comments on this practice:
“139. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or ‘Passion Sunday,’ which unites the royal splendor of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion.
“The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their workplaces.
“The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these causes in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise.
“Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.”
In the light of the above, one can perhaps understand the internal logic of why the text of the decree excludes the blessing of palms in parish churches.
Even in cathedrals, where the blessing may take place, participation would be limited. In one major archdiocese, the archbishop has limited it to 20 people in all.
Even if it were possible to bless palms outside of Mass, it would probably be inadvisable, or in some countries currently illegal, for people to go to the church to collect them. There would also be the danger of inculcating an incorrect meaning as to the importance of this custom among the faithful.
In all, in a year when millions of Catholics are suffering the far greater deprivation of being able to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, renouncing a blessed palm is a small sacrifice to pay in this very special Holy Week.
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