I have some old palms and was trying to figure out how to dispose of them since I missed bringing them to church to burn for ashes for Ash Wednesday. Now I have new ones. I read that I should burn or bury old palms. — Pulaski
Now that we are full swing into Lent and actually approaching the end, moving into Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, we might be asking ourselves this great question.
Often folks have the opportunity to bring the palms they received on Palm Sunday to their parish just before we enter into Ash Wednesday. In some parishes, the tradition is to take those blessed palms, burn them and use them for the ashes that, this year, were sprinkled or traced on our heads as a reminder that we “are dust and to dust we shall return.”
These are all best-laid plans. Sometimes we just don’t make it to our church before palms are burned. Some parishes simply purchase ashes rather than make them themselves — which is perfectly acceptable. However you ended up with old palms, you can do one of three things.
The first is to hang on to them for next year. Though they are undoubtedly get frail and rigid, many people have small prayer spots in their homes where they place holy images and items used in their personal devotional life. The palms might be placed on a table with such items or even adorn a cross or crucifix in the home.
Since blessed palms are a sacramental, they serve as a reminder — especially as we move through Lent — that what was once nimble, fresh and supple has become fragile and brittle over time. As an aside, as I get a bit older, I can somewhat relate to this reality. When the time rolls around again to bring our old palms to the church, we can then bring them in and have them burned.
Another very viable option is to burn them ourselves and return them to the earth. The ideal situation would be to burn the palms by themselves, collect the ashes and bury them in a place that will not be easily disturbed. We do this because blessed palms are a sacramental. These are an ordinary object that has been transformed or elevated to a higher purpose that draws us — through their use — closer to Christ. As such, they should be treated with dignity and respect rather than simply thrown in the trash.
The third option is closely related to the second, but omits a step. Because they are a sacramental and are biodegradable, palms may simply be buried in a place that would not easily be disturbed. In both, the case of the “burn and then bury” method or the simple “bury” method, neither require a deep place of burial. A few inches below the earth, where one can be reasonably assured they will not be disturbed until they return back into the earth from whence they came, is fine.
Johnson is Divine Worship director for the Diocese of Green Bay.
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