Answer: In the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, it is not uncommon to see old, dried palms show up in the Atrium. These palms are typically from the previous year’s Palm Sunday masses.
Let’s address the first question. What do we do with old palms? The answer to this can apply to a whole host of blessed items. When something is blessed, it is to be used for devotional purposes. If the item breaks, wears out, or it no longer usable, then the question arises as to how best to dispose of those items? The tradition response is that these items should either be burned or buried. An article I read on this topic offers a nice explanation as to why this practice is observed: “The tradition of returning blessed items to the Earth stems from the idea that an object sanctified in God’s name should be returned to God, much like the way a person is buried and returned to the earth.”
So when it comes to palms, what should we do with them? In the late 1800’s, the Church issues a few different decisions on how to dispose of blessed items. Among them was a directive on what to do with blessed palms. It directed that palms are to be burned, and the ashes then used for distribution on Ash Wednesday or returned to the ground.
Here is where the second question comes in. What do we do with all of those palms that people drop off at the Church? First of all, we are not asking anybody to drop old, blessed palms off, people just do it, likely for the reason I mentioned above regarding Ash Wednesday. Now, I hope this does not disappoint or scandalize you, but we do not burn those blessed palms in order to make ashes to be distrusted on Ash Wednesday. We have a bucket full of ash, from which we extract a small amount each year. Based on it’s current capacity, I would guess we have ashes for a decade or two! So, when we get these palms, we usually just burn them in the fire at the Easter Vigil, then those ashes are placed in the ground.
So, if you still have palms, and are wondering what to do with them, I would encourage you to consider burning them outside at your home and then burying the ashes in the ground. If you bring them to us, we will eventually burn them, but we certainly do not require any of those palms for making ashes for Ash Wednesday. So if you do not absolutely need to bring them to us, then please take care of them in the way mentioned above.