After responding to an email question about our Lenten customs here at Saint James, it was suggested that we print this explanation in the newsletter. Saint James is not the only church that has these customs. Many other churches have similar customs, but maybe some of this will be news to you.
The first custom is that we save the palm branches from Palm Sunday so we can burn them to make the ashes for Ash Wednesday the following year. After almost a year in storage, the palm branches are very dry and burn well. The ashes are combined with olive oil, and then applied to the foreheads of people who want them, along with the reminder, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Repent and believe the Gospel.”
The second custom is that when we take down the Christmas decorations, we keep the trunks of the Christmas trees to make the cross that adorns our chancel during Lent and Holy Week of the next year. Then we save the cross and use the wood to make a fire for the Easter Vigil the following year.
On Holy Saturday, the night before Easter Sunday, we light the Pascal Candle and enter the dark sanctuary. The sanctuary was dark when we left at the end of the Tenebrae service on Good Friday. The sanctuary is still dark at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, roughly twenty-four hours later.
According to Jewish reckoning of time, each new day begins at sundown. So, the Easter Vigil, which is supposed to begin after sunset on Holy Saturday, is actually the first Easter Sunday service. The light that we carry into the dark sanctuary is kindled with wood that goes back to the previous year’s cross and the Christmas trees from two years ago. Since we don’t use all the wood every year, we now have a supply of wood that is more than two years old.