Among the assembly on Palm Sunday and Good Friday are
many who do not attend weekly Sunday Mass. The cross draws
the faithful close; we come longing for the wonder of its mystery.
Holy Week and the sacred Triduum foster full, active participation
in the Paschal Mystery that brings the Church ever close
Mindful preparation for this week allocates time for the
art and environment team to make smooth, prayerful transitions
from Passion Sunday to the Easter Vigil. Inviting members
of the parish to help accomplishes three goals: freeing prayer
time for the art and environment team, welcoming liturgical
participation for those who might feel too busy, and providing
catechetical experiences for those who assist. Children who help
their parents carry plants in a procession will remember the liturgy
far longer than those who stayed in the pews; the baker
who prepared unleavened bread for the Holy Thursday celebration
will feel a deepening of prayer as the priest prays, "Blessed
are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we
have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands
Before Christmas, gather with your core team to study the
scriptures. Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and
the Easter Vigil have distinctive faces. Discuss the rituals, so that
both the flow and theology are understood. Palm Sunday's procession,
Holy Thursday's foot washing, Good Friday's veneration
of the cross, and the Baptisms of the Easter Vigil need special
attention from the art and environment team. Inviting the pastor
and parish liturgist to these early meetings is important.
Consult your notes from prior years; what has worked well?
What needs to be changed?
Determine the non-negotiable elements of each liturgy.
For example, Passion Sunday calls for red vesture, Holy Thursday's
color is white, Good Friday's is red, and the Easter Vigil is white.
The weekdays between maintain the violet vesture of Lent. The
parish procession of oils from the Chrism Mass happens at the
Mass of the Lord's Supper. The pastor and the Rite of Christian
Initiation of Adults team coordinate the Baptisms. Tapping into
the natural flow of the rituals can assist with your tasks: the
flowers that ornament the sanctuary for the Mass of the Lord's
Supper may be removed as part of the procession of the Blessed
Sacrament to the chapel.
Ritual changes from the 2002 Roman Missal regarding the
Triduum are available at the U.S. Bishop's Committee for Divine
Worship Web site. "Fourteen Questions on the Paschal Triduum" answers common
queries regarding these celebrations.
Begin a task list and delegate to-do items. Check on the
parish environment budget. Someone can call a floral supplier
while another inventories fabrics and materials; a veteran member
may create a complete task list, or each member of the committee
might plot the tasks and materials for a particular day.
At your next meeting, review the task lists that have been
created. Determine which tasks can be delegated to members of
the community and begin recruiting. Invite people to participate
in concrete ways. Will plants need to be trimmed and repotted?
The towels for foot-washing and immersion Baptisms will
need to be laundered. An outdoor fire to begin the Easter Vigil
needs a tender. Personal invitations to complete a specific task
generate the best and most volunteers. Once-a-week work meetings
during Lent assure everything is ready for the decorating
marathon of Holy Week.
The ministry of art and environment serves a single purpose:
engaging the senses to help the faithful enter more fully
into relationship with God. Familiar sights and smells evoke
memories of celebrations past; new scents and displays facilitate
a glimpse of the eternal. Rely on both.
Passion Sunday begins as the assembly, with palm branches
in hand, gather to hear the Gospel account of Jesus' entrance
into Jerusalem. In less than a week, our Messiah will be both
greeted with "Hosanna!" and hang humiliated on a cross. Red
dominates this day, but glimpses of violet remain as the weekdays
leading to Triduum are still to come. Streamers of red ribbon
with thin violet trimmings can be displayed atop banner
poles, suspended from hooks (swivel hooks sold with fishing
equipment will move in the wind without twisting the ribbons)
or carried. Palm branches will be distributed and blessed for
home use; use larger fronds to decorate the walls of the church
and place branches amid the greenery of existing plants. This is
a logical time to purchase new potted palms that will be used
throughout the year. Inexpensive red blooms, such as carnations
or alstroemeria, may be placed in vases among plants, but save
lavish floral arrangements for Easter. Simple red banners may
adorn the walls of the church. Be judicious in your effort-Passion Sunday should look festive compared to the austerity of
Lent, but like the crowds lining the streets of Jerusalem, its celebration
is short-lived. Leave the flowers, palms, and fabrics in
place for the weekdays of Holy Week.
Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated
on Holy Thursday evening. Aside from Morning Prayer,
there are no other celebrations this day; wait until after Morning
Prayer to transform the church. Decorating should be done in
moderation (Missale Romanum, Mass of the Lord's Supper, #5).
Red banners need to be removed and stored; white banners
may-but need not-replace them. Blooming plants such as
mums, daisies or kolanches, and new ivy plants can be used
today and become filler for your Easter plan. Set up foot-washing
stations in places where the assembly can easily see the ritual.
Position plants in the sanctuary, taking care not to obscure the
altar or obstruct the path of the ministers. Make sure the pitchers,
basins, and towels for the foot washing are of ample size.
The place where the Blessed Sacrament will be carried for
repose must be simply decorated. Those in procession can carry
the white candles and plants from the church. After the church
is empty, the altar should be stripped in preparation for Good
Friday. All other plants and candles should be removed.
Plan to prepare the church for the Liturgy of the Lord's
Passion and death after Friday's Morning Prayer. Simple preparations
are in order. Use red fabric sparingly to veil the cross
that will be used for veneration, making sure it can be gracefully
removed in sections. Choose a cross that will permit the
veneration by the people in "due time" with "decorum and devotion"
(Missale Romanum, Rubrics for Good Friday, #19). No
other decorations should be used.
Saturday morning, after prayer, with the many volunteers
you have recruited, (make sure that a task list is posted where all
can see it, and that materials are at hand) begin decorating the
church. Easter Vigil is the high point of Triduum, which will
conclude with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. The Vigil
begins outdoors, after sunset, with an Easter fire. The candles
held by the assembly will be lit from the paschal candle, which is
first lit from the Easter fire. By candlelight, people enter to hear
the word of God.
The primary symbol of Easter is Baptism. The font should
be accented but not overshadowed by decor. Banners made of
white fabric may be suspended above the font; place groupings
of plants and candles nearby but not in the path of the procession
of those to be baptized. Groupings of plants, fresh flowers,
and candles throughout the church emphasize the glory of the
Resurrection. Easter lilies are often used; tulips also speak of
spring and later can be planted in parish gardens. Group smaller
plants in large, shallow baskets for a bigger effect. Gold and silver
fabrics and ribbons woven among the plants or covering
candle stands will echo glory. Place fresh arrangements at the
sites of your dedication candles; a wreath of flowers may encircle
the base of the paschal candle.
When those entering the church are welcomed by a splendid
environment-fresh flowers in the narthex, or streamers of
white and gold at the entrance-they are primed for the wonders
God reveals in scripture and ritual this night. Christ is
risen! So also may we.
is chair of the theology department
of Archbishop O'Hara High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and
Confirmation coordinator for St. John Francis Regis, Our Lady
of Lourdes, and St. Bernadette's parishes.