FOR the second year in a row, the faithful will witness this year’s Holy Week solemnity on TV, laptop, tablet, or smartphone screens. They will perform vicariously the ritual waving of “palaspas” (palm fronds) this Palm Sunday.
Images of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem atop a donkey are vividly sketched in the gospel narratives. He descends from the Mount of Olives and into Bethany. As news that he had raised Lazarus from the dead spread, the crowds lay their clothes on the ground to welcome his triumphant arrival.
Holy Week events serve as a showcase of folk traditions and popular piety. Ethnographers report that the Filipino art of weaving palaspas has been in existence even before the Spaniards came to the Philippines.
According to one account: “Fray Juan de Plasencia recorded in 1589 that the natives of Nagcarlan adorn their houses with woven palm leaves during rituals. The ‘ibus’ (cooked glutinous rice in palm leaf) or young coconut shoots are woven with designs mimicking stars, birds, pineapples, shrimps, and even grasshoppers and sold in church patios as early as the Saturday night prior.”
The blessed palaspas is revered in folk tradition as it is believed to be like an “anting-anting” (amulet or charm) that could ward off evil spirits, but the church does not vouch for its supposed magical powers. These decorated palms are hung on front doors or balconies until the following year. The palaspas is then burned so its remains could be used in the Ash Wednesday ceremonies.
The rituals of Palm Sunday are rich in symbolism and provide manifold spiritual insights. The palm branch represents goodness and symbolizes Christ’s final victory over death that would soon be by his resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is explained by Bible scholars that he opted to ride on a donkey to signify that he came as a humble king of peace and not as a conquering warrior on a horse.
At the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California hangs a huge painting on Christ’s Entry into Brussels 1899 by James Ensor, which is a parody of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem transposed into 19th century Belgium. As described by the museum’s curator: “The haloed Christ at the center of the turbulence is mostly ignored, a precarious, isolated visionary amidst the herd-like masses of modern society. Ensor’s Christ functions as a political spokesman for the poor and oppressed – a humble leader of the true religion.”
This was used on the cover of the book, Leading Change: Overcoming the Ideology of Comfort and the Tyranny of Custom by James O’Toole. He projects the efficacy of Christian leadership as it is “rooted in high moral purpose and the consistent display of respect for followers.” He says that modern men and women can “lead from the middle of today’s inattentive crowd of individualists by enlisting and including all followers in the process.”
In a world afflicted by pandemic and the tyranny of ineffective leaders, let the lessons of Palm Sunday invigorate and revitalize the human spirit.