The Dualism of Palm Sunday


Five weeks ago, we stood in the church and received ashes. We were reminded of our mortality, our sinfulness and our need for penance and prayer. Those ashes were the remnant of Palm Sunday branches from last year. This year we will once again receive new palm branches. This symbolizes new growth and rebirth. The symbolism of the palms and ashes is just an example of the dualism inherent in this season.
On Palm Sunday we combine two events: the glorious welcome with palms of Jesus into Jerusalem, and (while holding those same palms) crying out of “crucify him! Crucify him!” during the Gospel. The palms symbolize our human weakness and how easily we can be drawn from faithfulness to faithlessness. During Palm Sunday Mass we take up our role as the mob that condemns Jesus to death. We are not just actors in this, however, since Jesus was crucified for all sins throughout all time, including our own.
Lent has been a period of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a way of burning away the old attachments of sin, so that the new growth of virtue and holiness may take place. The palms are not just something to stick on our crucifixes at home, or in our cars. They are the tangible reminder of the call to holiness and how easily we can go from welcoming Christ to shouting, “crucify him.”