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Last updateFri, 21 Sep 2018 10am

Mexico’s Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) Semana Santa and a scientific look at Christ’s death

Sunday, April 9, one of Mexico’s most charming religious observations, Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday), offers folk artisans an opportunity to demonstrate their skills at fashioning intricate palm-frond designs commemorating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. 

They will gather in front of the Guadalajara’s Cathedral (16 de Septiembre and Hidalgo), in the atrium of La Merced (Hidalgo and Pedro Loza), churches around Lake Chapala and elsewhere to practice their artistic skills, weaving intricate and handsome designs with fresh palm leaves that they will sell to worshipers. These esthetically transformed fronds will be blessed by priests as part of the Palm Sunday Mass.

pg19Afterwards, these pieces of palm will be taken home by the devout and are customarily placed above the door of their houses, replacing the dried fronds of the year before. Extra woven palm leaves will be taken to the house of friends unable to attend Mass.

Many Mexican Catholics believe the blessed pieces of palm have been endowed with miraculous powers and that such powers can be called upon to halt evil from entering one’s home if it is carefully hung over the doorway. In rural areas where the traditions of the past are still strong, it has been the custom, at the approach of fierce storms, to burn a piece of the blessed palm in the hope that the rising smoke will carry prayers for safety to protective intercessors and specific saints, to the pantheon of the Church’s powerful spiritual personalities, both humble and famous.

On Domingo de Ramos (literally “Sunday of the Branches”), worshipers traditionally gather at the front of the local church were the priest blesses the woven palm fronds. Then, followed by his acolytes,  all dressed in special vestments, he leads the assembled church-goers, holding the palm-leaves above their heads, into the church. The procession is a re-enactment of the triumphal entry of Christ into the city of Jerusalem.

The following week, Semana Santa, is a solemn time for many Mexican Catholics for it leads to Christ’s crucifixion. On Thursday and Friday of Holy Week, some churches still use matracas, wooden clappers, instead of church bells to call the faithful. In some rural areas, many of the devout continue to put away all children’s games, to cover musical instruments in homes and generally to conduct themselves in ways appropriate at a time of sadness, when a death has occurred.

Christ’s death, say modern researchers and scientists, was most likely caused by shock from the loss of blood and the inability to breathe on the cross. His death was hastened by the scourging he had suffered earlier.

“The extent and importance of the scourging is often overlooked,” according to Doctor William D. Edwards, a pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in the 1980s. “It was really quite important in terms of the cause.” He has co-written a study with a Methodist pastor and a medical illustrator that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. All three co-authors are Christians, though their work has been regarded with skepticism by some fellow Christians. “We tried to go to extreme lengths” to get reliable data on the process of Roman scourging and crucifixion, “and let the cards fall where they might.”

“What we found … does not conflict with Scripture,” he argues. The scourging, whether it lasted a long or short time, was aimed at weakening the victim, he said. Edwards suggests that Christ’s lashing was severe and his loss of blood significant. “Those crucified tented to survive (on the cross) between two to four hours and three to four days, so Jesus’s death was on the short end.”

Some precious research has contended that accounts of Christ crying out in a loud voice just before he died indicated that his heart had ruptured. But the study by Edwards and his co-authors said this was unlikely.

“Jesus’s death may have been hastened simply by his state of exhaustion and by the severity of the scourging,” leading to blood loss and to shock, the study declared. This type of shock occurs when the body’s blood flow becomes inadequate.

This is the world-changing death that Christians all over the globe, and with special fervor in Latin America, will be commemorating, not only in churches, but in homes  — throughout much of rural Mexico — in their daily lives this coming week.

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