Liturgical Decor for the Solemnities of The Most Holy Trinity and The Body and Blood of Christ
May 09, 2008
As with all liturgical décor, it is essential to:
» Understand the reality of the mystery we seek to convey, the liturgical context, and the designated liturgical color.
» Work with those who understand progressive solemnity, the theology of the feast, and the aesthetic elements of artistry and beauty.
» Address the whole building, inside and outside, the entire church interior, church offices, faith formation rooms, places of hospitality, parish grounds, doorways, hallways, and entrances.
Both the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity and that of the Body and Blood of Christ are “idea feasts” that do not focus on a particular salvific event, but emphasize dogmatic truths and significant aspects of the mystery of Christ. While these two movable feasts are dependent on the date of Easter, they are not part of the Easter season.
Although their liturgical colors are white, both of these feasts are part of Ordinary Time. Pentecost signals the end of the Easter Season and precedes our entrance back into Ordinary Time. The Most Holy Trinity is celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost and The Body and Blood of Christ is observed on following Thursday, to echo Holy Thursday and the institution of the Eucharist. In the United States, The Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated on the following Sunday to encourage wider participation and draw greater attention to this reality of our faith.
Progressive Solemnity & Aesthetics
So both are white – how does their décor differ from Easter? That is one of the questions that should be primary when thinking through how the church will express these feasts. Progressive solemnity, the progression of how we convey the solemnness or the importance of an occasion, person, idea, or event, is key to all of the decisions therein.
Thinking through Ordinary Time décor is also important for this planning, since it is the base of the season in which The Most Holy Trinity and The Body and Blood of Christ are celebrated. Ordinary Time lends itself to a simpler décor, sans the extravagance of Easter, so this dimension adds another level of thoughtfulness to the progressive solemnity of these celebrations.
Because Easter trumps both the Most Holy Trinity and The Body and Blood of Christ, it is important to distinguish them from Easter in any of the ways that they might appear to be visually connected. This includes vestments, altar and ambo antependiums, altar linens, the style of banners, foliage, or floral arrangements, as well as their proportion in number and size. It is also helpful to think about other hues and textures of white or other colors, such as gold, that can accompany the main liturgical color to express the tone of the day.
Guiding Symbols & Ritual
The rituals, symbols, and images that accompany these celebrations also provide resources for insight, creativity, and décor. Particular images of the Trinity might be displayed in the church or Gathering Area to cue the assembly that today is a day to think more fully about the Trinity.
While symbols of the Eucharist are more ubiquitous to the faithful’s general experience, The Body and Blood of Christ can be a time to introduce potentially new historical examples, such as the mother pelican and her young or other varying imagery found in medieval paintings, vessels, and vestments.
The Body and Blood of Christ also holds a rich celebratory history of processions where the Eucharist is carried through the streets in a monstrance, protected by a beautifully crafted canopy, and accompanied by multiple festival banners. It is worth investigating how this is done in other countries and in a historical renderings, not to imitate, but to learn how others have artistically expressed their understanding of the Eucharist, celebrated this feast, and to gain insight into what might work well in present day.
Ritual also communicates a progressiveness that provides clues as to how these two feasts relate to one another. The ritual in turn helps us decide how to express that relationship visually. In addition to the surrounding Eucharistic processions, there is an extended gospel procession sequence on the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ. So, while The Most Holy Trinity requires décor that is more pronounced than a Sunday in Ordinary Time, the ritual of The Body and Blood of Christ entails additional visual emphasis to complement the pageantry that can be part of this feast.
These two feasts are good examples of how the history of a celebration, its artistry, and an understanding of their inherent rituals help inform beautiful décor. It also provides an opportunity for artists, liturgists, and theologians to share their knowledge and gifts in order to learn from one another in service to the liturgy. We then exemplify our unity as the Body of Christ, which is, after all, the reality we seek to express.
Denise L. Anderson is a liturgical consultant and writer who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and worships at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church. She holds an M.A. in Liturgical Studies from The University of Notre Dame.
All photos were taken by Denise Anderson. With the exception of the photo of the antique Belgian Cope which is from a private collection, the others are from St. Thomas More Parish in St. Paul, MN.
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