How will St. Francis do the Liturgy of the Palms now that we cannot gather for Palm Sunday and the distribution of Palms is prohibited by stay in place orders?
As with all our liturgies for the second half of Lent, Holy Week, and the first part of Easter this year, we will be focusing our worship and spiritual nutrition on the liturgies of the word because they are the liturgical resources open to us. That means we will continue fasting from the Eucharist. It also means we will be trying new ways to express other parts of our traditions.
This Sunday, the Sunday of the Liturgy of the Palms and the Passion, we are encouraging household processions and will be having a three-part reading of the Matthew’s passion.
First, this is our direction for the procession. In place of palms, we invite each household to cut leafy branches from their own gardens to have on hand for the beginning of Sunday’s service. Your choice can be boxwood branches, flowering dogwood, wax myrtle, and more. You may want to note the liturgical season with purple ribbon or yarn tied to your branch. Set aside a place for it in your home, near the mailbox, or by your front door. When it comes time in the service, we will bless your offerings as we do every year, and when it is time for the procession, the clergy will read Psalm 118:19-29 while the people go to their chosen place and display their branches for family or the neighborhood to see.
For those concerned about using local trees and bushes for this, there is no liturgical or Biblical requirement for the churches to use palm branches. The rubrics of the BCP read: “The branches of palm or of other trees or shrubs to be carried in the service. . . [p. 270].” The Gospel of Matthew reads, “A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road [21.8].” Mark’s gospel describes the scene: “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields [11.8].” Luke does not even mention branches, only cloaks [19.36]. Only in John are the branches that are cut described as being palms, “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him [12.13].” Even though this will be different, there is both permission and precedent to do it this way.
In addition to our modified processional, we will be reading the passion slightly differently than in past years. This will be a three-voice reading with a narrator, a Jesus, and an everyone else. This too is one of the many affirmed traditions for the church. This way was chosen to eliminate the echoing we get on zoom when we open up the audio and everyone speaks at once.
We have also been blessed to able to add in some appropriate music for this occasion, coming from our favorite instrumental and vocal combo, Jeanne and Larry Vote. Gathering this Sunday will be different, and it will be holy in a way only occasioned by the magnitude of the events around Great Falls and the world.