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Why olive branches are sometimes used on Palm Sunday

Gałązka drzewa oliwnego

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Philip Kosloski - published on 03/21/24

While typically palm branches are distributed to parishioners on Palm Sunday, historically olive branches can also be used and has its own symbolism.

In recent years palm branches have become the universal standard in the Catholic Church for Palm Sunday.

However, palm branches were not always traditionally used, as access to them was limited. In most places local plants were more often distributed on Palm Sunday.

One popular alternative that is still used in some places is olive branches.

Part of the origin behind this tradition is the following antiphon that is still sung on Palm Sunday during Mass.

The children of the Hebrews, carrying olive branches, went to meet the Lord,
crying out and saying: Hosanna in the highest.

Olive branches have a rich spiritual tradition in the Bible and most often symbolizes peace.

It was an olive branch that was given to Noah when the flood began to recede.

Even a former blessing that was used in the liturgy mentioned this episode.

Increase the faith of them that hope in Thee, O God, and mercifully hear the prayers of Thy suppliants; let Thy manifold mercy come upon us: let these branches of palms or olive trees be blessed; and as in a figure of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noah going forth from the ark, and Moses going out of Egypt with the children of Israel; so may we go forth to meet Christ with good works, bearing palms and olive branches; and through Him enter into everlasting joy.

The olive branch also foreshadows what will happen later in Holy Week, when Jesus goes to the “Garden of Olives.”

Currently the Roman Missal only mentions “branches” in its blessing, allowing for local variations.

Yet, whenever olive branches are used, they retain a spiritual symbolism that has deep biblical roots.

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