Olives or Palms?

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FrGareth
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Olives or Palms?

Post by FrGareth »

As I was preparing next year’s Ordo for the Wales yearbook, some words jumped out at me which I must have copy-pasted there some years earlier…
ASH WEDNESDAY: The ashes are of branches of the olive tree or, according to custom, of the palm tree or other trees, which have been blessed the previous year.
The olive tree? But surely these are branches blessed last year on Palm Sunday? So I looked at what the current Missal says about Palm Sunday – or to give it its full title, “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.”

There was no rubric there specifying what kind of branches should be used by the people, though the processional cross was to be adorned with palm branches. Most of the mentions of branches, in both rubrics and prayers, simply used the word branches. Of the four Gospel texts of the Triumphal Entrance, only John explicitly says “palm branches”. This is reflected in several of the texts for the First Form, the Solemn Entrance with profession, where the Hymn to Christ the King and the responsory immediately following both declare that the Hebrews were waving “branches of palm”. But before that, in the same selection of processional texts, we find Antiphon 1:
The children of the Hebrews, carrying olive branches…
Nevertheless, the Third Form, the simple entrance, has this entrance antiphon:
in their hands they carried palm branches…
A quick search of the internet reveals advocates of using olive branches, since these represent peace in contrast to the palms which signify military victory – but also, of course, advocates of using palm because one explicit mention in the Gospel is enough to validate this. For practical reasons, before modern shipping and transportation, any available branches were (and still are) permissible – meaning in Bavaria and Poland the day of the Lord’s Passion is also known as *beep* Willow Sunday!

An Anglican source points to a 2006 book suggesting a contrast between Pilate entering Jerusalem from the west carrying a palm branch as a sign of imperial power, while Jesus enters from east hailed by olives as the King of Peace.

The current missal is, of course, a literal translation of the 2002 Missale Romanum (and in these texts correspondes precisely).

Both the UK and USA versions of the pre-2010 Missal open Palm Sunday with a rubric that the faithful “carry palm branches” and merely mention on Ash Wednesday that the ashes fittingly come from “branches” previously blessed.

The 1965/66 English-Latin Missal contains the same instruction as the current Missal for Ash Wednesday, favouring olive, but for Palm Sunday specifies blessing branches of "palm, olive or other trees".

So there has clearly been a deliberate change of instruction. Between 1965 and 2002, the Latin Missal dropped the mention of "palm or olive" in its rubrics for Palm Sunday. Following the literal requirements of Liturgicam Authenticam, our current Missal faithfully reproduces the enduring Ash Wednesday rubric preferring olives, which must have been suppressed as not reflecting Anglosphere botany in the previous translation. Taken together, where our previous English Missal preferred palm, the current one prefers olive.

There’s no doubt that olive, palm and other branches are all valid for liturgical use on Palm Sunday and their ashes for Ash Wednesday. But insofar as a rubric seems to imply that olive branches are normative except where palm or other options are customary, where does this preference for olive branches come from? Is it simply a practical reflection of Italy being in a place where olive is more accessible than palm, and Roman practice becoming the model for the world-wide church? Is it a theological choice to emphasise the symbol of peace over the sign of imperial power? Or is there another factor at work here? Your insights, please!
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Revd Gareth Leyshon - Priest of the Archdiocese of Cardiff (views are my own)
Personal website: http://www.garethleyshon.info
Blog: http://catholicpreacher.wordpress.com/
alan29
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Joined: Fri May 27, 2005 8:04 pm
Location: Wirral

Re: Olives or Palms?

Post by alan29 »

Years ago we went to Palm Sunday Mass in Dubrovnik when it was still part of Yugoslavia.
People took foliage from their own gardens to Mass for the procession ..... which I guess is what happened on that first Palm Sunday. There was a great variety of plants on show. It was quite something to see several hundred folks moving towards the cathedral, branches in hand.
Peter
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Joined: Fri Mar 23, 2007 6:05 pm

Re: Olives or Palms?

Post by Peter »

Sorry for replying so late to Fr Gareth's initial enquiry, but this post from the past may be relevant viewtopic.php?p=27550#p27550.
Southern Comfort
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Joined: Sat Feb 23, 2008 12:31 pm

Re: Olives or Palms?

Post by Southern Comfort »

Back in the 1980s you would often find parishes where people were encouraged to bring to church branches cut from the hedge in their garden, etc. The clergy would have the big old dusty palm fronds, but everyone else would bring their own branches, just as the crowds did on the first Palm Sunday I'm pretty sure that those who rushed to see Jesus entering Jerusalem simply cut or tore off whatever they could lay their hands on, including palm, olive and probably other plants and trees as well. Just anything vegetal that could be waved!
blackthorn fairy
Posts: 120
Joined: Mon Apr 05, 2010 11:36 am
Parish / Diocese: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Wellingborough Northamptonshire

Re: Olives or Palms?

Post by blackthorn fairy »

Interestingly, re the use of willow branches, my grandmother always called *beep* willow (of which there was a great deal round the home where I grew up) as - palm - which used to puzzle me. Now I understand.
blackthorn fairy
Posts: 120
Joined: Mon Apr 05, 2010 11:36 am
Parish / Diocese: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Wellingborough Northamptonshire

Re: Olives or Palms?

Post by blackthorn fairy »

NB that silly beep business is nothing to do with me!
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