QUAERITUR: non-liturgical seasonal decorations in the sanctuary

From a reader:

Since it is now Autumn, the liturgy committee of my parish has
decorated the sanctuary, including the high altar, with all sorts of
Autumn decorations like pumpkins, bundles of grain/straw, baskets and the like.

Are these types of non-liturgical decorations of the sanctuary
allowed, prohibited, encouraged, discouraged, or what?

I think the only prohibition would be that of good taste and a proper understanding of what  a sanctuary is for.

What is this?  The lobby of an IHOP?  Is this a girl scout project?  What’s next?

I am unaware of any specific law baring baskets and pumpkins from sanctuaries.  I wish there were one, but there isn’t.

It seems to me that liturgical colors and the changing of the texts and music is decoration enough.

Okay… I have been under the weather and feeling crotchety today.  But… puhleeze…

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  1. DominiSumus says:

    At the parish where my husband grew up, it is common to find the sanctuary decorated for Fall with pumpkins, hay bales, apple crates, and corn stalks. These elaborate harvest displays would also include fake apples, roosters, crows, and even a pitchfork.
    Easter would bring a similar display with plastic rabbits and chickens. The first thing we did when decorating for our wedding was to disassemble the entire thing.

  2. teevor says:

    “It seems to me that liturgical colors and the changing of the texts and music is decoration enough.”
    Few things add more to the dignity and beauty of the sanctuary than flowers on the altar, so long as it’s done tastefully.
    As with flowers, I think autumnal decorations could in theory look good and tasteful. The problem is that in many parishes, decorating the sanctuary becomes a weekend craft project for a few nice old ladies who seem to lack a concept of “noble simplicity” and of course this is all part of a general breakdown in the dignity of the way the rite is celebrated.

  3. FrCharles says:

    Lol. The chapel in our house is fully be-pumpkined.

  4. Cincinnati Priest says:

    The liturgy committee at one parish that I was involved with at one point in the past would routinely talk about the “liturgical season of autumn.” When I politely pointed out that there was no such “liturgical season,” they seemed quite puzzled.

    Therein lies the problem of many modern parishes: basically well-meaning volunteers with very little liturgical knowledge. The problem is that they don’t always seem to have much of a desire to acquire that needed knowledge.

  5. pelerin says:

    It sounds to me as if the reader’s parish is copying the Harvest Festival service from the Church of England where all kind of fruits and vegetables (and if I remember rightly tins of peas too!) are placed on and round the altar.

  6. AnAmericanMother says:

    Pelerin, you beat me to it. That’s where I think it comes from too.

    I’m always reminded of one of Norman Thelwell’s cartoons with a miserably wet congregation in a leaky country church, with a few waterlogged vegetables around the altar. Vicar announces from the pulpit: “On account of the widespread flooding, we will omit the verse about ‘soft refreshing rain.'”

  7. medievalist says:

    This can, sometimes, be a great benefit if done correctly. At an old parish of mine, the tradition was to pile up such fruits of the earth on Thanksgiving weekend ONLY (in Canada this is what Americans would call Columbus Day) in order to have a traditional blessing and thanks to God for the harvest. Sometimes the parish food bank would be mixed in. The whole display was promptly dismantled that same Sunday.

  8. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    Is this a girl scout project?
    What dear Padre? I remember a friend’s grandmother, a member of the Ladies Altar Society at the parish coming to some of our Brownie Girl Scout meetings and we girls, helping the older ladies do the floral arrangements for Mass. This was in 1966-67 so before all the “crazy” stuff started up.

    I know my Cadette Girl Scouts (Middle School) helped out a few times decorating the Base Chapels for Advent and Christmas. Two of my Senior Girl Scouts (High School) did some repairs to worn altar linens as a service project as well.

    Please tell me that these types of “service projects” were not what you meant?

    The local parish we sometimes attend, the bright almost neon green vestments and altar cloths are gone and last Sunday the older more “olive” shades and in the older Roman style of chasuble and old fashioned “white” altar linens back. (They rotate based on the seasons). Pretty much the usual style of altar arrangements, (gladiolas, carnations and roses with some greenery). No pumpkins, corn stalks or dried “stuff,” that’s all at the on-post chapel.

  9. Magpie says:

    I once saw a (plastic) heron, fish, fishing rods, nets and other items in the sanctuary of a church. It was for harvest thanksgiving. It was quite the display. Sadly I didn’t have a camera with me.

  10. Pumpkins and corn and what-not… but no one has a CLUE what a “rogation” day is.


  11. Good point about seasonal flowers. So long as they aren’t overdone.

  12. Kaneohe says:

    Well God works in strange ways!! I am dealing with this very issue in my parish and have been asked to write up a manual dealing with “art and environment.” My first comment was I would do it, but it would have to be on “Sacred art and environment.” I am currently working on it! Keep me in your prayers.

    The manual I did for the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion went over quite well (it’s 24 pages and covers everything I read about and situations/questions I could imagine coming up). Now only Father gives out the Body of Christ. EMHC assist only with the Precious Blood – we have only one priest so it is impossible for him to distribute both the Precious Body and the Blood – like most dioceses both species are mandated by the bishop for every Mass. Also the EMHC no longer give “blessings” and all the other other odd things they used to do. I am now working on a second edition with a few more quotes…..Brick by brick.

    In all I write I always quote the sources. This way people cannot say “Oh well, that’s just what “Kaneohe” says, thinks, wants…. A fact is a fact, what I write is it not my opinion but what the church says. This makes all the difference as far as how people react and put things into practice.

  13. Andreas says:

    Greetings from the Tirol!

    As in England, here in the Tirol, it is time to give thanks for this generous and fruitful harvest. As with many of the living traditions celebrated throughout Austria, doing so takes the form of a village fest; in this case, a harvest festival of thanks (Erntedankfest). Throughout the Tirol, such fests take place at the beginning of October, when villagers gather early on Sunday for a Mass and Procession. Church altars and portals everywhere are gaily bedecked in flourishes of fresh vegables, fruits, squash, potatoes and flowers; explosions of brilliant color and sweet smells. Each house of the village has the honor of contributing something that they have themselves grown to the altar. As seen in Pinswang’s gorgeous Baroque Ulrichskirche, the natural tapestry arranged so lovingly on the hard wood and stone floor complements the equally magnificent paintings (completed in 1729 by the highly regarded Bavarian artist Johann Heel) that one can see on the ceiling and throughout the Church. You can read more about this at: http://ausserferner.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/erntedankfest/

  14. pelerin says:

    American Mother – can just imagine that Thelwell cartoon. Didn’t he do those great cartoons showing chubby children riding equally chubby ponies?

    ‘Soft refreshing rain’ – isn’t that from ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ which always amused me as a child as everyone always breathes after ‘scatter’ and before ‘the good seed on the land’ thus changing its meaning entirely! Have not sung this since my C of E days but it was a must every Harvest Festival.

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, yes, that’s the Harvest Hymn – that one, and “Come ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home”.

    We could start a whole thread on Hymns Children Thought They Heard – the one I mis-heard was “lift high His royal banner” – as a tiny tot I had never heard of a banner, but I knew what a banister was . . . . couldn’t figure out why anyone would, or could, lift it . . . . I never mis-heard “Gladly, the Cross-eyed Bear”, but that was because it wasn’t an Episcopal hymn.

    You’re right, Thelwell is probably most famous for his little kids on malevolent ponies — he illustrated country life generally, but the ponies are his claim to fame. I have all his pony books – “Angels on Horseback”, “Riding Academy”, and all the others.

  16. Peggy R says:

    Sounds like my parish. I think the fall decor is in front of the free-standing altar and another display of pumpkins, gay, etc., is to the side of the sanctuary, not in it.

    I do find quite objectionable the “Halloween nightmare” light brown, dark brown and almost black cloth over the front of the free-standing altar and with coordinating banners hanging from columns. The cloth has dark back with brown undefined shapes on it. The banners are similar with different dark color combos.

  17. DisturbedMary says:

    Last Fall our parish had a very an inappropriate visual display in front of the altar similar to the ones mentionned here. The worst part was the plastic “waterfall” complete with running water DURING MASS! So in the silence of the consecration, we could hear the water running. I’m watching for this 99c store garbage this year. If it’s back I intend to unplug it before Mass begins.

  18. laurazim says:

    Mary, that sounds so fighteningly familar. A priest I’ve known since childhood *loves* his Easter display. It travels with him when he is assigned from one parish to another. It includes gigantic hollow plastic boulders which surround, of course, the waterfall, which cascades (throughout the entire Mass) into the back-yard size black plastic multi-level pond. It’s all surrounded by neon green and highlighter yellow and white poly-satin swags and many, many plastic plants. The water gets blessed. The faithful are baptized. And during moments of should-be silence, the parishioners wiggle in the pews trying desperately not to pee.

    Gag. Puke.

  19. mike cliffson says:

    This post sounds just like the Anglican (Episcopalian)harvest festival.
    They needed it. No mass, no real presence….
    We don’t

  20. Peggy R says:

    Whoops! Typo discovered today on my earlier post. I did not mean “gay” , but “hay”!!!

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