Portland, Maine, Mar 31, 2020 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- With public Masses cancelled across the United States, ahead of Palm Sunday this weekend, some Maine Catholics are being encouraged to adopt a substitute devotional practice: pine branches.
Traditionally, Catholics receive blessed palm branches during Mass on Palm Sunday, this year celebrated on 5 April, to mark Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem and the start of Holy Week. That will not happen this year, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the nationwide suspension of public Masses.
“Unfortunately, we won’t be blessing any palms in this year’s celebration because we won’t be able to process with them, nor can we distribute them so that you can place blessed palms in your home after Mass,” said Fr. Louis Phillips of the Diocese of Portland (ME) said.
Instead, he has suggested to his parishioners at his three parishes to go outside–in a socially-distant manner–and clip a small pine branch to place behind a crucifix.
Phillips dubbed the idea “Pine Sunday,” and he is encouraging it among Catholics at St. Anne Parish in Gorham, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Westbrook, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windham.
He told CNA that the idea of people came from a conversation he had with friends living in Florida. He realized that they would be able to grab a palm–albeit a non-blessed palm–from one of the naturally growing palm trees, and place it in their homes.
“I thought, ‘Oh, too bad we don’t have any palm trees in Maine,’” said Phillips. “Then I got to thinking. I was looking outside, and thinking ‘but we do have plenty of pine trees.’”
Maine’s official state nickname is “The Pine Tree State” and the trees are ubiquitous throughout the region.
“So I got to thinking that the people of Jesus’ time when they welcomed Him into Jerusalem that day, that first Palm Sunday, what they were doing in essence was laying out a red carpet for him,” said Phillips. Palm branches were readily available in Jerusalem, he explained, so they were a natural choice.
Phillips said that he hopes the presence of the pine branch will serve as a reminder of the Passion of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, as well as a remembrance of the unusual time that was Lent 2020.
“I think this will be a Holy Week that none of us will forget, but that might just bring to mind the blessings and the challenges that we’re facing today. Maybe when we look back on it in retrospect in months to come, we’ll find some meaning in it all,” said Phillips.
“So I thought maybe those pine branches could help do that, and still connect us really not only with the events of Holy Week but connect us with one another. If we kind of do this collectively, even though we are separated physically, there’s something to be said when still we come together to pray together and celebrate our faith together through this simple thing,” he added.
The palms that were set to be delivered and distributed to the parishioners at Phillips’ three parishes will instead be used to decorate the church where Mass is live-streamed. Phillips said that this year, pine branches will also be a part of those decorations.
At least one other priest in Maine has endorsed the concept of “Pine Sunday” for this year.
Fr. Seamus Griesbach, the director of vocations for the Diocese of Portland, approved of the “Pine Sunday” idea, and thought it was an excellent substitute for the traditional Palm Sunday tradition.
“I was like, that is an awesome idea,” said Griesbach, when he learned of Phillips’ suggestion.
YouTube, Griesbach said, half-jokingly, that the process of clipping a pine branch could also be a way to promote handwashing, as pine sap is incredibly sticky.
“That stuff is nasty, it never comes off,” said Griesbach. “If you can wash that pine sap off your hands, you know that the coronavirus certainly isn’t surviving.”
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