The altar decorations that are used in the church displays the different liturgical seasons.
Remember that the Catholic church follows a liturgical calendar, which indicates the seasons, feasts and colors to be used in the decorations as well as the priests’ garments. We will talk about the priests’ garments suitable for each season in our next post.
Meanwhile, the most significant feasts or seasons being observed by the Catholic church are Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. During these times, the altar is designed and decorated according to religious traditions. This is to help the faithful observe and celebrate such seasons appropriately.
Advent and Christmas
For this season, make a wreath. The wreath should be made of a round evergreen. This symbolizes the new and everlasting life brought forth by the birth of the savior.
Place five candles on the wreath: three colored purple, signifying penitence as well as royalty, as the church welcomes the coming of the king. Include one colored pink or rose, to represent rejoicing and a white candle in the center to be lit on Christmas Eve, representing the “Christ candle.”
Place the wreath in a prominent area of the altar, usually in front or on one side of the altar table.
Utilize flowers moderately at the altar and all throughout the church during Advent because that is a time for awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus.
In as much as it should be decorated, the altar display should be marked by simplicity. Therefore, keep flowers, garlands, and other Christmas decors in moderation, expressing expectant joy but not yet the fullness of it, which is reserved for Christmas Day itself.
Decorate elaborately on Christmas Day, as befitting the birth of a king. Use live trees and plants as much as possible to depict the gift of life the Lord Jesus brings to mankind. Place the Nativity scene in a prominent area, and make it accessible to the congregation who would want to come close and pray, reflect on the beautiful scene and kiss the baby Jesus.
Lent and Easter
Utilize dried arrangements instead of fresh flowers during the Lent to signify the austerity of the season. You can place rocks, bare tree branches and other symbols associated with the Scripture readings of the Lenten season throughout the altar.
The religious cross and statues should be covered with purple, violet or black cloth, after the fifth Sunday of Lent or after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
You can alternatively remove all statues from the church instead of simply covering them. This practice helps the faithful “to concentrate on the great essentials of Christ’s work of redemption.” According to EWTN, a global Catholic news network,
prior to the Easter Vigil Mass, unveil crosses and all other images after the Good Friday ceremonies, then place the statue of the Risen Christ on a prominent part of the altar on Easter Sunday. Decorate elaborately with fresh flowers, garlands and other Easter symbols throughout the church, to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and the gift of life and salvation it brings about for all Christians. Note that the colors of the altar linens and priests’ vests at this time are white and gold, symbolizing purity, the hope of the resurrection and newness of life.