Paschal Cycle

A Paschal Environment - Part 2

February 03, 2009


Holy Week

Palm Sunday BlessingThere is often a temptation to reenact the visual elements of Passion Sunday and the succeeding days of Triduum. While these liturgies hold dramatic elements, such as the procession with palms, the passion readings, the washing of feet, and the reality of Easter, our goal is not to act them out as realistically as possible, with costumes, props, and theatrical activity. Our goal is to:

» To express the festivity and solemnity of the days and the processions,

» Draw the assembly more fully into the experience the scripture, song, and ritual.

» Express Jesus’ mandate to be servant to all in the washing of the feet as fully as possible.

» Let the symbols of these days and the ritual lead the way to visual expression.

The purpose of liturgical décor is always to support the ritual, not to supplant it as can sometimes the case with carefully staged representations of the Last Supper during the Mandatum, or with the movement of flowers or placement of candles and linens during the Gloria of the Easter Vigil, so as to reenact Easter dawn.

Passion/Palm Sunday

Palm SundayThe liturgical color for Passion Sunday is red, but it is still part of the Lenten Season, so the visual patterns of Lent should be sustained. However, this is a wonderful day to compliment the worship space with palms, banners, ribbons, bells, and other festive elements.

While we do not want to re-create the entry into Jerusalem with scenery or a donkey, palms can be integrated into various parts of the church interior, gathering areas, and outside of the church. Again, artists and florists can help guide aesthetically beautiful ways to create palm arrangements or integrate palm banner poles, accented with red and even purple to lend an air of festival entrance.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday ushers in the Sacred Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and begins to set the stage for the most profound series of sacred days throughout the Liturgical Year. While these initial days should not hold the visual exuberance of Easter, it is no longer Lent.

Holy Thursday is a night for noble simplicity that focuses on the main symbols that transmit and celebrate the deepest realities of our Catholic witness and beliefs; the oils, the foot washing, the Eucharist, the progression of prayer leading to Good Friday. Everything within the ritual, music, and décor should express this profundity. Some key components to think about are:

How you will display the oils.

Holy OilsIf you have an ambry, this can be an opportunity to highlight its presence with simple candles and flowers. If it is an opaque container, you may want to open it or display the oils in a different manner that will accent them more fully. If you do not have an ambry, it is even more important to invest in beautiful containers and display the oils in a way that presents their symbolic value to its fullest. If you do not have an ambry, consider constructing or purchasing one or creating a worthy temporary solution that will lead to a permanent placement displaying the oils.

How you will wash feet.

Washing of the feetWhile the washing of feet or Mandatum is a ritual element, it requires objects that can help communicate the true nature of its theological meaning.

» Where will the feet be washed? Who will wash feet? Where will people be seated?

»  Will the pitchers, bowls, and towels be part of the décor? Where will they be placed?

»  What is the quality of the towels, the bowls, and pitchers? What is their size and color?

»  If more than one pitcher or bowl or towel is used, do they harmonize?

How you will process and reserve the Eucharist.

The décor supports and serves all ritual. Therefore, it is important to think through how the transitions of ritual, music, and visual experience of the procession and reserving of the Eucharist at the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper move into the starkness of Good Friday, with the stripping of the altar and the loss of other festive adornment. The solemn procession of the Eucharist, the vestments, and the altar of repose are all the elements of the transition to the cross of Good Friday. Things to think about include:

» What space will contain the altar of repose? Will it be separate from the main worship area? How will you process to this location?

» What candles and flowers will adorn the altar of repose?
What will be part of the procession? Candles, flowers, ministers, choir? Who will carry what?

» What vestments will be worn in the procession? Keep in mind, the humeral veil, the cope, and change of attire from the chasuble of Holy Thursday.

»  How will the stripping of the altar take place ritually? Who will take part?

»  How will you conclude the vigil of adoration? Will it include Morning Prayer with the assembly the next morning or a simple prayerful conclusion with those present during the night?

Good Friday

Veneration of the CrossGood Friday begins at sundown on Thursday and is the first of the two days of fasting that proceed Easter Sunday. Good Friday is very focused in its symbolism. The color is a martyr’s red and all visual elements support the cross and Christ’s passion and death; emptiness, starkness, nothingness. The Church is stripped of décor, the altar is bare, the tabernacle is empty. All is as if in mourning. The visual abandonment of Good Friday is the antithesis of Easter fullness.

Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday

Easter DecorThe Easter Vigil décor is that of Easter and the summit of the entire Liturgical Year! The liturgical color of Easter is white and all primary symbols are to be expressed with particular fullness, beauty, and care; the font, altar, and ambo. Beyond that, all secondary symbols, such as the cross, and all processions and symbols connected with the Word and sacraments; Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation are also to be expressed as fully as possible – lots of water, baked bread, and enough oil to leave its mark, not only on the newly confirmed, but in the air, so that all can share in the aroma of chrism. The décor of the Easter Vigil sets the standard for Easter Sunday and the entire Easter Season. In reality, it sets the pattern for the entire year. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar describes this dynamic particularly well: Thus the solemnity of Easter has the same kind of preeminence in the liturgical year that Sunday has in the week. (Par. 18) In the same way, the liturgical décor of Easter sets the pattern of décor for the whole year.

Easter Season & Pentecost

The Easter Sunday décor continues for the whole of the Easter Season. It is important to think through how to keep this visual consistency throughout the entire seven weeks. This involves not only aesthetic, but financial planning that will support floral foliage and festivity throughout this length of time.

Pentecost bannerPentecost brings a change in color from Easter white to celebratory red and escalates the tenor of the Easter Season to its fullness and culmination. Again, the primary symbols of the font, altar, and ambo are visually heightened. The scriptures of the day aid in offering visual images of celebratory tongues of fire that can be incorporated into color and shape, while guarding against literalism. Again, it is important to resist the temptation to enact the story of the scripture of the day and let the liturgical décor speak for itself as it raises up the primary symbols of our faith.

The Feast of Pentecost concludes the Paschal Season, but appropriate visual décor throughout these 90 days can inform and form the assembly mystagogically, so that the expressions of faith and symbol will continue to echo through the weeks of Ordinary Time that lie ahead.

As I entered the Missouri Botanical Gardens again that summer, large fountains were shooting up at the entrance. I could glimpse the rose gardens to my left and I knew that the beauty of the lily pad ponds, and Japanese and English gardens were once again in bloom beyond the abundant flowers and leaf-laden trees in front of me. The former austerity was hard to imagine. Such is the path of the paschal mystery; death to life, emptiness to fullness. Ash Wednesday to Good Friday to Easter Sunday to Pentecost. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is the mystery we express in our worship and décor. This is mystery we live. Alleluia, alleluia! He is risen! Alleluia!

Read Part 1 of this 2-part article.

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.

Photos: Mike Jenssen of liturgies at The Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis.


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

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