Caring for the Worship Environment


The role of those who prepare the liturgical décor in our churches is often thought of as simply decorating the worship space and making it attractive. The ministry of liturgical environment goes far beyond this; it is about enabling the assembly to worship God in spirit and in truth and to draw them into something that is transformative. Providing places for worship that are appealing and worthy opens up the possibility of God touching people through the experience of beauty.

In order to achieve such lofty goals, the liturgical minister of the environment needs to follow several key principles.

First, ministers of liturgical environment need to understand that the purpose of liturgy is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery as the central focus of the Christian life. The Lectionary readings are an important source of images, metaphors and central characters for each season and feast.

Second, they must always keep in mind that Sunday is the original Christian feast. Every Sunday celebrates the Paschal Mystery. Sunday reflects and expresses the mystery of Christian faith in its entirety. The feasts and seasons that make up the liturgical year have their history and theological genesis in the Sunday celebration. The themes of these seasons are meant to enhance the Sunday celebration, not to overwhelm it.

Third, a fundamental goal of preparing the worship space is to facilitate the ritual actions and movements of the assembly. Liturgical art and environment truly work when they allow the people to move in an unobstructed way to all the primary spaces and symbols in the church. All art and environment must serve the liturgy, not the other way around.

Fourth, it should never be the case that visual objects such as flowers, banners and statues draw attention away from the sacred action of the assembly. Rather, by their restraint and dignity, they contribute to the sacred mysteries being celebrated.

Fifth, when positioning greenery and flowers in the church, ministers of liturgical environment need to keep in mind that the primary symbols of worship are not meant to serve as a backdrop for potplants and floral arrangements. Central liturgical symbols such as the altar, font and ambo are noble and worthy pieces of art in their own right and do not need to be decorated. The liturgical rites call for these primary symbols to be freestanding and approachable.

Finally, to highlight the fact that it is the entire assembly that celebrates the liturgy, special care should be taken to decorate appropriately the approaches and entries to the church, the gathering spaces and the area where the assembly is seated for worship.

Through their prayerful and informed use of space and symbol, ministers of art and environment help the formation of the assembly in the Christian way of life. When people worship in a liturgical environment that enhances the ritual actions and primary symbols of the liturgy, they are brought into 'full, conscious and active participation' and experience the beauty of the transcendent. Such a celebratory environment is the goal of every minister of the liturgical environment.

As with all liturgical ministries, the aim of ministers of art and environment is to assist the assembly to enter into the experience of Jesus’ dying and rising, the heart of all our worship.

Elizabeth Harrington