Red Wing parish begins Lent with palm burning

| February 10, 2016 | 0 Comments
Father Thomas Kommers burns palms during an Ash Wednesday prayer service at St. Joseph in Red Wing. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Father Thomas Kommers burns palms during an Ash Wednesday prayer service Feb. 10 at St. Joseph in Red Wing. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

People who attended the Penitential Prayer Service on Ash Wednesday at St. Joseph in Red Wing were treated to an annual ritual started by the pastor, Father Thomas Kommers.

In the parish bulletin weeks beforehand, he urged parishioners to bring in their old palms for burning. Then, during the prayer service, he placed the palms in a ceremonial bowl and burned them in front of the congregation. It’s a tradition he started at the parish when he became pastor in 2003.

“When I first got here, they were stunned,” Father Kommers said, of the reaction to the palm burning the first time he did it. “They loved it, especially the children. They had never seen anything like this before. It opened the door to a richer understanding of Catholic rituals.”

Kay McDowell places ashes on the forehead of Sue Kelly, who is holding her granddaughter Evelyn at St. Joseph in Red Wing. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Kay McDowell places ashes on the forehead of Sue Kelly, who is holding her granddaughter Evelyn at St. Joseph in Red Wing. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

After the palms were burned, the ashes were distributed to people in attendance. The ritual happened both at the 9:30 a.m. prayer service and at another one in the evening for faith formation children and their families.

“They watch it intently,” Father Kommers said. “It’s fascinating.”

Father Kommers said he learned the ritual at the St. Paul Seminary, where it was done while he was a seminarian. He has been doing it at parishes where he serves throughout his 35 years of priesthood. Things like fire and incense can make a powerful impression on members of the congregation, he said. He recalled one time when he was at St. Thomas Becket in Eagan, and he invited a man who had left the Church to come back on Ash Wednesday.

“He had been away from the Church for 18 years, and I encouraged him to come,” Father Kommers said. “He smelled the incense and began to weep . . . . The odor of the incense brought him back to his Catholic faith.”

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