Decorating the Church

It is very common to go into a Catholic church and find that most, if not all, of the elements used to beautify the space (floral arrangements, banners, seasonal symbols, etc) are located in the sanctuary and nowhere else. 
Art and environment ministers should be encouraged to consider the entire space where the people of God worship and look at the various areas and focal points within this. The main aim is to ensure that each area that makes up the worship space is fulfilling its ministerial function. 

For example, the dominant feature of the baptismal area will be flowing water, sacred vessels of oil, and the paschal candle. The size and design of the baptismal font or pool enables full or partial immersion. The area itself allows all present at a celebration of baptism to gather around. 

One part of the worship space that is sometimes overlooked is the surroundings and entry areas of the church building. Pathways and the vestibules can be used to good effect to prepare people for worship and to provide a link between liturgy and life. 

A display of photographs with brief write-ups in the church foyer can tell the story of where this community spends its time and energy. This might include parish pastoral council members at a meeting table, a youth group activity, choir practice, a minister to the sick visiting a parishioner, and the social justice committee engaged in outreach. 

Outdoor areas and pathways can be used for displays often more effectively than the usual sanctuary. On Palm Sunday, for example, clusters of large palm branches can adorn outside walls, stairways and gathering spaces to great effect and should line the route of the procession. 

After moving through pathways and vestibule, worshippers encounter the baptismal area if it is located at the church entrance. A restrained use of decorations related to the season of the liturgical year or of nature can be used to enhance the primary baptismal symbols of water, oils and paschal candle. 

This might take the form of a beautifully crafted hanging or tapestry, something without words, or a long piece of fabric suspended from the ceiling with its draping folds drawing attention to the waters of the baptismal pool below. Such a three-dimensional display gives more life to the entire area than a banner hanging against a wall. 

The nave is where the members of the assembly sit, stand, listen, respond, sing, acclaim, intercede and give thanks, so it should be decorated as intentionally as any other area. Hangings from pillars or on the surrounding walls or lengths of fabric in seasonal colours draped over crossbeams for the entire length of the church are just two examples of how this might be done effectively. 

A task that liturgy teams or art and environment ministers might well start with is to divest the altar table of its excessive accoutrements. Floral arrangements, nativity scenes, baskets, flags, books and papers, and glasses (both reading and water!) often clutter the altar and its surrounds and distract from the ritual actions that occur there. 

Whatever is put near the altar should enable and invite everyone to gather around (at least visually), pray the Eucharistic Prayer and eat and drink the eucharistic food.

Elizabeth Harrington