Palms appear at churches around the country for Palm Sunday, many of those places, without having their own palm trees in the yard. York County is one of those places, and local parishes must order their leaves and some, even their ashes for Ash Wednesday.
Take a look at how some area churches get their palms and ashes for services.
1. Via mail delivery
Most churches get their palms from a religious goods store that has them shipped in, said the Rev. Daniel Mitzel, pastor at St. Rose of Lima.
There are many reasons a parish may order ashes, for example if a parish doesn’t have someone able to burn leaves or doesn’t have enough palms, Mitzel said.
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church orders their ashes every year from Palm Gardens Inc. in Texas. The company has dealers that then send the palms or ashes to the churches that order them.
You can order ashes based on the amount of people you expect to anoint, said Linda Myers, financial secretary for St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church. Ashes for 1,000 people are $20, she said.
They order them in December. There are also different kinds of palm leaves that can be ordered said Nicole Diluzio, sales associate at Hoffman Church and Religious Goods in Erie, Pa., a dealer for Palm Gardens. There are different shapes and sizes, fanned, longs and shorts, depending on what the church wants. She would say the longs are most popular, though, and ashes are just as popular to order as the palm leaves.
2. Left over from previous years
It’s probably not surprising that it doesn’t take many palm leaves to make enough ashes for the entire parish. Because of that, churches will often have leftover ashes even after seeing thousands of parishioners.
“A little palm ash goes a very long way,” said the Rev. Jonathan Sawicki, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – St. Mary’s.
Between three masses at the parish, they’ll probably have 1,200 people come, he said. “We have left over every year, I don’t know how it happens, we never run out,” he said.
Palms are handed out every year and aren’t supposed to be discarded. They can be buried in the backyard, Sawicki said, but most of the time churches will collect the leaves just before Ash Wednesday. If there are leftover ashes, they are stored in a sealed container and put in a cabinet for next year, Mitzel said.
3. Freshly burned palms
This can get messy, and there seems to be an art to it, but many churches have people that burn their collected palm leaves themselves to be used for the ashes they put on people’s foreheads.
The palms collected from parishioners usually burn very easily because they have been drying out throughout the year, Mitzel said. That’s their preferred way to get ashes.
“One key element in burning the palms for ashes is the amount of sifting you need to do,” Mitzel said. You don’t want big pieces on people’s foreheads, there’s kind of an art to it, he said.
Whether the parish burns the ashes themselves or buys them, they are still blessed as part of the ritual of Ash Wednesday. Blessing of ashes is usually done with holy water, but some priests and parishes mix in some oil when the palms are burned to help the ashes stay together to be placed on foreheads, Mitzel said.
Water can probably affect how long it stays on the forehead as well, Mitzel says they try to avoid having so much that it becomes a paste.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of lent, 40 days of fasting before Easter. It represents Jesus Christ’s temptation and 40 days in the wilderness. The ashes represent human mortality: “For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)