Palm fronds line the aisle of a church on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. The Romans used palm fronds as symbols of victory, waving them as they returned from victorious battles.When Jesus entered Jerusalem the week before his death, crowds that had gathered for Passover greeted him on the road with palm fronds crying out,"Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel who come in the name of the Lord". Since then, Christ's approaching victory over death, through the Resurrection on Easter, is prefigured in the palm. Each household takes a palm leaf home to remind it of Christ's triumph. The following year, old palms are returned to the church wehre they are burned. These ashes are used to anoint foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Thus thepalm as a symbol of everlastin glife is transformed into a symbol of mortality, then again renewed.
The Easter Vigil
The Easter Vigil service originally lasted throughout the night as a true vigil kept in expectation of Christ's Resurrection on Easter morning. It is at this solemn Mass that new initiates are baptized into the church. It is also the time when the paschal fire, representing Christ's Resurrection as 'the light of the world', is kindled. From the fire, the Paschal Candle is lit and all candles inthe church are lit from this single candle, which is lit anew each year. Before baptizing the new catechumens, the newly lit Paschal Candles represent the Body of Christ, is plunged into the font of baptismal water to bless the water with Christ's presence.
The feast of Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. As the natural world bursts forth in the bright light of spring, Catholics celebrate the risen Christ, who brings them new life, in this existence and beyond.
At the other end of the year is the feast of the Nativity. Christmas is second only to Easter in its sacred importance. Like Easter, Christmas is preceded by a four week long season of joyful expectancy and hope called Advent, for the coming of Christ's arrival - not only his coming on Christmas, but at history's end as well. The Christmas cycle runs from Christmas Eve to the Sunday after the Epiphany or after 6 January if Epiphany is celebrated on Sunday. Apart from Easter and Christmas Cycles, the rest of the liturgical year is composed of 33 or 34 neutral weeks called Ordinary Time. The last Sunday on the Church's sacred calendar is the Solemnity of Christ the king, which anticipates the fulfillment of all time, when Christ will restore all things to God.
The Advent Wreath
The season of advent is marked in catholic homes and churches with the Advent wreath. One candle is lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas, until all 4 are illuminated, heralding the arrival of Jesus christ, 'the light of the world'. Violet Candles are often used, with one pink candle for the third Sunday of Advent.