14 April 2019


A couple of years ago, I was in the world's largest Jewish city around the time of Succoth, the autumn Feast of Tabernacles. Passing through Grand Central on my way to visit the Frick Collection, I was accosted by a charming young man, with skull-cap, who seemed all of eight years old, who profferred me a strip of palm with the question "You're Jewish?" It took me but a nanosecond to decide that this was not the occasion to offer subtle distinctions; so I just said "I'm afraid I'm not", at which he cheerfully withdrew the palm and passed on his way. Neither of us attempted to proselytise the other.

Here are some words from Fr Thurston's admirable CTS pamphlet dated 1949:
It is perhaps sometimes forgotten that the association of the cry Hosanna with the waving of palm-branches does not date merely from our Lord's solemn entry into Jerusalem. If the people saluted our Saviour in this manner at the moment of His triumph, it was because both action and words were familiar to them as part of the ceremonies of one of the most joyful festivals of the year. On each of the seven days of the feast of Tabernacles the people moved in procession about the altar in the court of the Temple, making their boughs of palm bend towards it, and shouting Hosanna ("save now"), while the trumpets sounded. Moreover it would seem that verses 25 and 26 of Psalm cxvii, beginning Hosanna and containing the phrase, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord," were used as a sort of responsory to the great Hallel (Psalms cxii-cxvii), which was recited on this occasion. When it is added from the explicit tradition of the Talmud that the children who were old enough to wave the palm-branches were expected to take part in the celebration, and that the boughs themselves came in the course of time to be called  Hosannas, it will be clear how close a connection there is between the Christian procession of Palm Sunday and the palm festival still observed by the Jews after the harvest in the autumn. Both the ceremonies of the Jews in their synagogues and our own procession on Palm Sunday represent a rite which has existed in some shape from the time of the entry into the promised land more than 3,000 years ago.


tradgardmastare said...

A moving post Father. Can you recommend a good read on Jewish worship in the Old Testament? Thanks.

Thomas said...

A Jewish friend told me that on the last day of the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) the branches are first waved in every direction to show God's Lordship over all creation, then they are (or were in the Temple days) beaten on the ground four times to make the earth cry out to hasten the coming of The Messiah , 'because the Rabbis said that the world was made for sake of the Messiah'. That would make so much sense of Our Lord telling the Pharisees that even if the children were made to stop shouting "Hosanna" - effectively calling out to him as Messiah and asking him to be their Saviour - "even the stones would cry out" and welcome him!

The Messiah has come - "he who comes in the name of the Lord" - and, in fact He is The LORD God Himself who has "pitched his tent" (built his booth/made his tabernacle) among us by becoming man (John 1:14). But we did not recognise the hour of our visitation (Luke 19:44) and he was taken out of the city and put to death. Yet this too was foreseen and foretold of The Messiah who became the true Passover Lamb of Sacrifice in order to be our Saviour and Redeemer.

And there is one more little detail that struck me: apparently the branches used in the Temple ceremony around the altar were sometimes kept by families until Passover when they were used to burn all forbidden foods before the great feast. Even this seems to be echoed in our tradition of burning last year's palms for the ashes on Ash Wednesday. So much becomes clear. I think we should all have Jewish friends!

stephen cooper said...

"most populous" was the word you were looking for, not "largest".

frjustin said...

In response to tradgardmastare, perhaps the most accessible book on Jewish worship in the Old Testament would be "Jewish Prayer: The Origins of Christian Liturgy" by the wonderfully named Carmine Di Sante, translated from the Italian and published (in the U.S.) by Paulist Press in 1991.

The author is a theologian with SIDIC (Service International de Documentation Judeo-Chretienne) in Rome. The blurb on the back cover states that "he clearly connects early Christian and gospel stories of Jesus with Jewish liturgical forms and prayers".