Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time Decor (Part II)

June 05, 2007

View the Image Slideshow for Ordinary Time Decor (Part II) (Opens a new window).


Read Part I of this 2-part article.

Progressive Preparation

Lemon treeProgressive solemnity permeates our world as we dress in particular ways to celebrate an important occasion in a fine dining restaurant or participate in a casual park picnic. So it is with our worship throughout the year. An approach with which to reflect on the aesthetic decisions involved in Ordinary Time is to consider these six areas of preparation: Content, Category, Color, Quality, Quantity & Scale, and Community.

  • Content:          

What are the scriptures expressing? The accounts of the end times with the king choosing between the sheep and the goats has a different intensity than the feeding of the five thousand. What time of year is it? What is happening outside? The sunny days of summer invoke a different experience of gathering than the cooler days of fall. These differences inform all our choices for seasonal environment.

What materials are available and appropriate for enhancing worship during different times of the year? Materials can include live plants, flowers, fabric, art, banners or hangings, tapestries, ribbons, flags, candles, sculptures, glass, or arrangements that combine these elements. A useful and often successful axiom for liturgical décor is to bring the outside to the inside. Flowers, different forms of greenery, and trees are good places to begin for actual materials, as well as inspiration.

What do you want to express? The answer to this question informs the foundations of progressive solemnity. If you start with a grand sense of décor for Ordinary Time in July, any emphasis for the weeks prior to the solemnity of Christ the King, and the feast itself, need to build on that foundation and express a more heightened sense of festivity. Understanding the relationships between the Incarnational, Paschal, and Ordinary Time Seasons is primary for making suitable décor choices throughout the whole of the year.

  • Category:        

What are the best places in the church to emphasize? The primary symbols of the altar, font, ambo, and assembly are always the best place to start. If you direct your energies to other areas of the church, but neglect these primary areas of sacramental activity, distraction and a distorted hierarchy of importance is communicated, despite your best intentions.

The dynamics of progressive solemnity operate in both particular and broad spectrums. If the outside of a home greets you with festive Christmas lights and decorations, but the inside holds no similar ambience, you might wonder as to the differences of splendor. A similar awareness must be active when deciding what to accent.

Primary symbols, the assembly space, and the gathering, outside, and entrance areas of the church should all be considered when preparing the church environment. Simplicity is most often appropriate during the summer months, with additional emphasis as we approach Christ the King. Planting perennials around the church grounds can also serve as an ongoing sign of welcome and hospitality during the summer months. Remember, Ordinary Time can communicate foundational values for the rest of the year. For example, if a parish has banners or other signs of welcome outside during Ordinary Time, but at no other time, onlookers might think that Ordinary Time is the most festive time of the year. However, if banners or flags are outside throughout the year, but change in keeping with the liturgical season, they can express the unfolding of the paschal mystery within the church walls.

  • Quality:           

Quality is a degree of excellence. Poor quality is usually not satisfying. High quality usually infers that an essential character or standard has been met. Within the realm of church décor, quality needs to support the inherent dignity of the reality we seek to express; Christ’s paschal mystery. Again, progressive solemnity is inherent in our decision making. Less important objects in our day-to-day world are expressed with different materials and different levels of excellence or quality. Fast food architecture and the accompanying food, plates, and furniture are not the same as that of banks, courthouses, or five-star hotels. A different value system is employed, leading to different decisions of excellence with regard to chair fabric, the art used throughout the space, building materials, and the type of food and utensils offered for refreshment.

We are charged with the same decisions regarding the degree of quality used in our fabrics, worship aids, chasubles, altar cloths, furniture, linens, and vessels. All things used in worship lend themselves to this same awareness.

  • Quantity & Scale:      

Decisions, objects, and materials that might be appropriate in a small space, are not always the best for a large space and vice-versa. It is important to understand what is suitable for each and what is best at different times of the year. Progressive solemnity lends a guide to discerning what is too much or too little. The surroundings help us determine scale. Within this value system, the budget for materials also needs to be considered to determine an overall plan for the year. A diminutive vase of flowers does not complement a large altar in a large space, nor do excessive bouquets that can overwhelm a small altar and ambo, despite their loveliness. If you are not able to afford or obtain seasonal décor that is large enough to serve the space, priorities will need to be made as to how to be good stewards of what is available. Perhaps a larger plant is better than attempting to integrate small banners in a space that really needs large hangings. Creativity and observing public models, such as well chosen hotels, malls, or restaurants, can provide ideas and examples of how to make good decisions that will to enhance the experience of those coming to worship, rather than provide visual distraction during prayer.

  • Color

It is most important to know the color of the liturgical season that is being celebrated. Ordinary Time is green, but some solemnities and feast during Ordinary Time are not; therefore, it is necessary to be attentive to this symbol system at all times of the year. It is also vital to be aware of the harmonies of the liturgical colors within the space and how they interact with the permanent colors found in the church interior floor treatments of carpeting, slate, and tile, as well as wall textures, wood tones, related hues, and how natural and artificial lighting affect the experience of all of these. Variances of the main color are also helpful in offering variety throughout the year, especially during a season as long as Ordinary Time. The kelly and avocado greens that have been historically prevalent in antependiums and chasubles can expand to an array of light and dark green, as well as forest green, sea green, blue green, turquoise green, mint green, and many more shades, textures, and weights, in between.

Think about how these varying hues express a time of year. Sea green and accompanying shades of mint or turquoise might be more appropriate for Ordinary Time during the summer, while darker shades and heavier weights of fabric and textures might be more expressive of the fall or winter weeks. In addition to their color, weight, and texture, all materials must be in harmony with the rest of the architecture. It is tempting to pay less money for a less substantial piece of fabric that is the right color, but not at all in accord with the grandeur of the space or quality of the surrounding furnishings. It is a worthy search to discover fabrics that meet both criteria.

  • Community:     

Who in your community has the skills to attend to the environment of the church? Many gifts can be offered to this ministry. It is not only for those who believe they have the best sense of taste or style, but also for those who have the time and ability to care for plants, those who create flower gardens, experienced seamstresses and quilters, able builders, and those with a good sense of scale, or the ability to translate the season into a vision of visual encounter. All of these members of the Body of Christ can work together to create inspiring and hospitable décor in which to celebrate our being the Body of Christ.

How do we find these people? Invitation and alertness to other activities in the parish that require these skills can be two avenues for engagement. Announcements in the bulletin and asking others can also elicit clues. Who are the gardeners here? Who are the artists? Who likes to build? Not everyone likes to “decorate”, nor do they feel capable of doing so, but they may be able to sort ribbon, plant bulbs, figure out the best way to make a banner stand, or share their insights about art and décor.

Ordinary Time is our way of marking time outside the Incarnational and Paschal Seasons. The way we prepare our churches and areas of welcome and hospitality make a statement about what we believe about our symbols, our celebrating, and our vision of service and worship. The oft repeated and encouraging words of John Paul II are appropriate here: “do not be content with mediocrity.” This is good advice as we set the standards that will serve as a base for all the seasons of the liturgical year. Progressive solemnity, our symbols, feasts, and scriptures, as well as attentiveness to our surroundings and the gifts within our assemblies will help guide our decisions during these weeks of prayer until our Lord returns.

Denise L. Anderson is a liturgical consultant and writer who lives in St. Paul, MN and worships at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.  She holds an M.A. in Liturgical Studies from The University of Notre Dame.


A Paschal Environment (Part 1 and Part 2)
Liturgical Décor...Most Holy Trinity and the Body & Blood of Christ
Ordinary Time Decor (Part I)
Color Psychology and Liturgical Space

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