We were late, very late, we were scrambling into the car buckling up the kids at 9 minutes till with a 15-minute drive late. Scooping up our little girls in their dresses and clutching armfuls of loose board books and Sippy cups, we scurried across the lawn and through the doors of the church only to be met by our priest walking right towards us, sprinkling holy water over the congregation.
I always kind of forget that Palm Sunday opens with a special scripture reading and a blessing of the palm branches in the back of the church. I suppose because it only happens once a year, it’s not at the forefront of my mind, at least it certainly wasn’t on the one day that we were the latest we ever been to church! So there we were with all the faces of our fellow parishioners turned in our direction with our little girls wiggling to get down, swiping handfuls of palm branches off the table and plopping their books and themselves on the floor next to the action, right near the feet of the priest. A humbling place for a parent to be but I had to remind myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal. We were here, we had a close-up view and my kids were sprawled out on the floor waving their palm branches around in the spirit of the day.
What more can anyone ask of a family with small children?
Once the procession and music had started, we were able to make our way to an empty pew. Except of course when you are ten minutes late on a Sunday right before Easter there are not many empty pews and we ended up squeezing in next to an older lady with people in front of us and behind us. Just as soon as we had settled our plethora of books, Sippy cups, princess figurines, branches and jackets on the seats, the palm poking started.
Palm branches are a beautiful symbol for Catholics about who we are worshipping, about the person-hood of Jesus as fully God and fully man entering into Jerusalem on a donkey amid shouts of Hosanna so many years ago. They are a reminder of what we are entering into on the Sunday before Easter as we begin the Holy Week leading up to the death and Resurrection of our Lord.
But to a preschooler and toddler palm branches are beautiful for a different reason. They are new, they are a texture and a shape that hasn’t been experienced much before, they wave and make a soft swishing sound when you wiggle them up and down. They are the perfect width for little hands to hold and the perfect length to reach the people around you. The tips of the branches are just pointed enough to poke someone’s eye but soft enough to tickle someone’s arm. They are “palmtastic” toys really and the first half of Mass was spent slapping and waving those branches around every which way. It was a tug of war between parents and children as they tried every tactic to thrust the pointy tips into the lady in front of us and we tried every tactic to steady and pull back the leafy blades.
The palms eventually lost their luster as all new toys do, and we were able to lay the poor bruised branches down between the hymnals for the reminder of the Mass while our girls resorted to their normal church routine. This routine includes reading books aloud, singing random bits of songs to break the silence between prayers, jumping in and out of the pew and crawling along the kneelers and under our feet. Come to think of it, the palm branches were actually a decent distraction while they lasted!
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I have come to realize that having my own young children in church is both a difficulty and a blessing. It is difficult to keep them quiet and still for an hour but it is a blessing to have them there, to present them back to God from whom they are from and to say “Here they are, this is what we have to offer you this week.” As hard as it is to pray and focus when my kids are moving and talking and banging toys on the pew, I receive the thought again and again that God is most pleased to have the little children come to Him.
I have come to realize that having my own young children in church is both a difficulty and a blessing.
As hard as it is to pray and focus when my kids are moving and talking and banging toys on the pew, I receive the thought again and again that God is most pleased to have the little children come to Him.
Even when we feel like we are just barely surviving on Sunday, we can offer Him our children because as parents, they ARE the gift we bring to the altar. We should not be discouraged when our children are loud or restless in church because they are supposed to be there with us. God knows that they will not behave perfectly the whole time and He does not expect them to but He does want them to come. After all, in the book of Matthew chapter 19, verse 14, Jesus clearly says “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
When Mass was over and we were heading home with our collection of children, toys and palm branches, I thought of something I had never thought of before. Palm Sunday is the one day when we receive a physical object that we can display in our homes for the rest of the year. An object that is blessed by the priest and connects the physical to the divine in a very small but very tangible way. When we take those small waxy pointed green branches home, we are bringing a small piece of our beliefs with us to remind us who our king is and who the glory belongs to in our lives and in our hearts.
It is a “palmtastic” way to begin the Holy Week leading up to Easter, just make sure you as a parent are ready. You just may be shielding yourself and others from the blows of those palm branch swords!