This time of year is so wonderful; it is sensual, abounding with color and teeming with the scent of so many flowers and trees. I just love visiting the arboretums and gardens, taking it all in. We hear in this Sunday’s readings about fertile ground and fruitful seeds and the rains of the season that help to water the earth. When we take the parables in their literal sense, we are aware of the beauty of God’s creation as we approach our churches and see the shrubs, the flowering trees, the blooming flower gardens and abundantly overflowing pots that spill out onto the sidewalks.
As we enter into the church itself, we are greeted by the scents and color variations of those freshly picked flowers that bring God’s creation to the altar, whether professionally prepared or lovingly placed into vases by the many parish volunteers whose stewardship is so perfectly matched to this ministry. What is so important about having real, fresh flowers in our interior and exterior environments?
The manual “To Crown the Year: Decorating the Church Through the Seasons” states that “Liturgy abhors the artificial.” It is further explained that real, material things remind us that “the seasons’ signs point toward the reign of God.” These real things die and fall apart. That is because “Heaven cannot be contained.” It is a theme of “here today, gone tomorrow.” It is a reminder of our fallibility and God’s ever-present, never-ending nature.
“The Sacristy Manual” states that “While some silk or metal ‘flowers’ are of exquisite quality and fine materials, they are not flowers. The liturgy needs materials that are honest and natural; floral arrangements should use only real flowers and greens.” We are a church whose optimal focus is the real presence, Jesus in our midst, incarnate into our broken human nature for which he then died for our sins and gave us the eternal gift of salvation. This great gift is represented not only in our living and dying, but also in all of creation’s living and dying. When real flowers decorate our churches, we are reminded of that real presence and when they wither and die we are also reminded of that great gift of salvation. From the dying plant comes the seed to re-propagate and to be “re-born.” It is a cycle that will continue to the end of time. The symbolism of fresh flowers and greens is rich and fulfilling.
So, how can a parish strive for this plateau from the plethora of finely presented artificial arrangements and green plants? One of the excellent suggestions, especially in summer, is to have fresh flower donations from the parishioners. Another option is to have a parish “cutting” garden on-site — a flower garden, tended by those great flower enthusiasts for use during the season. When not in season, use things available, for instance flowers that have been dried and preserved and tall grasses that will last into the fall. There are spring pussy willows and in winter, dried branches.
(Other resources to help guide your parish may include “Built of Living Stone, Art, Architecture and Worship,” the soon to-be-revised “Guidelines and Resources for Ministers of Environment and Art and Sacristans for the Diocese of Green Bay” and the “Sourcebook for Seasons and Weekdays.”)
Wettstein is director of music and liturgy at Good Shepherd Parish, Chilton.