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On a Palm Sunday sans palms across U.S., Maine parishes have Pine Sunday

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On a Palm Sunday sans palms across U.S., Maine parishes have Pine Sunday

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In Maine, known as the “Pine Tree State,” the solution to a prohibition on passing out palm branches at church this Palm Sunday was simple.

“We do have plenty of pine branches out there,” Father Lou Phillips, pastor of three Maine parishes, told his parishioners ahead of the April 5 feast, the first day of Holy Week. “So I’m suggesting that we celebrate ‘Pine Sunday’ this year. Let’s use what we have, and it will be enough.”

“Just like the people of Jesus’ day used what they had on hand to welcome the Lord into their lives, so can we use what we have,” he added.

So parishioners at St. Anne Parish in Gorham, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windham, Maine, were asked to go snip off a branch from a pine tree and place it in a spot in their home where they will occasionally see it.

The “Pine Sunday” Mass was livestreamed, as was Mass celebrated by Portland Bishop Robert P. Deeley at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland — and as were Palm Sunday Masses across the country as churches continue to be closed for the public celebration of Mass as part of the nation’s ongoing measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For all of us, this Lent has been a trial, a true penance. We were in the first weeks of Lent when we found ourselves in the middle of a pandemic,” said Bishop Deeley during his homily, noting that it was a disappointment for all the faithful they could not gather in churches for Palm Sunday and that the traditional distribution of palms was put on hold.

But he wholeheartedly endorsed Father Phillips’ idea for substituting pine branches for palm branches and putting the pine branch “behind the crucifix just as we traditionally do with the palms.”

“It will be a reminder that this was a different year but, in fact, we were still able to remember God’s love for us in the Passion and death of his Son, and we looked with hope to the promise of the Resurrection at Easter,” Bishop Deeley said. He also urged Maine Catholics to always have a crucifix in their homes, “particularly at times like this.”

Across the country, Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne in a Palm Sunday blog posting on the archdiocesan website said: “Our Holy Week has begun.”

“God does not remain distant. In Jesus, God’s humility is manifest. Jesus takes on our human flesh. Jesus continues to be in our midst,” said the archbishop, who celebrated a livestreamed Mass from Seattle’s Cathedral of St. James. “Our minds continue to interpret our present moment through our ‘normal’ experience prior to COVID-19. It makes it difficult to ‘catch up’ to the demands of the present moment.

“How much did that same principle apply in the time of Jesus. The people and leaders of the community had such a formal concept of God, which is shattered in the person of Jesus. Perhaps our own concept of God also needs the reality of Jesus. Perhaps this ‘new experience’ will provide an opportunity for Jesus to break into our day in a new and fruitful manner,” he said.

“May we learn from the humility of Jesus,” Archbishop Etienne added. “May we not only join our sufferings of this present moment to his, but as Jesus, be willing to enter into the sufferings of others. Let us think less of our own needs at this time, and following the example of Jesus, look to the needs of others. Let us accompany the Lord and one another through the passion and death of Jesus, to the resurrection and new life that await us!”

In the Diocese of Phoenix, the Office of Worship offered Catholics many suggestions for observing Palm Sunday as part of a 125-page guidebook titled “A Journey Through Holy Week for Families” and posted on the diocesan website.

“Palm Sunday is going to be different this year than any other you have celebrated it,” said a section in the guidebook titled “Celebrating Palm Sunday in the Domestic Church.” “There will be no triumphant entries into churches with palm fronds waving or priests sprinkling them with holy water. That does not mean that it has to be a day like any other day.”

So while churches weren’t passing out palm fronds this year, families were urged to “look around your home, your neighborhood. Do you have palms from last year? If so use those.”

“If you have children consider making some out of paper as a craft activity. If you don’t have anything, do not despair. While the use of palm fronds is a beautiful and historic custom, it is not necessary for your observance of this holy day,” it continued.

It suggested that if families had their own palm fronds, they could do their own procession at home “or wave your fronds as the priests enter the church as you are watching the Mass at home.” It also included a link to instructions on how to make a palm cross and suggested Catholics, whether they had palms or not, to read about the tradition of making intricate creations from palm fronds.

Families also could, the guidebook suggested, watch a video about the process of turning this last year’s blessed palms into this year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday; families could read the Gospel at home in parts after or in preparation for the Mass; “and those also those viewing the Mass can follow along and participate as ‘the crowd’ (that gathered for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem). This may also be done on Good Friday (April 10).”

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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