Monday, December 15, 2014

Church Flowers for Christmas

Madonna Lily
In many local churches it is customary to fill the sanctuary with red poinsettias for Christmas.  This post is for those who may wish to depart from that custom.

The liturgical color for Christmas is white.  That means that the priest's vestments and the altar frontal will be white.  Accordingly, white flowers can make a stunning church flower decoration for Christmas.

Here is what my favorite church flower writer, Katharine Morrison McClinton has to say on the subject:
"Liturgical usage calls for a white frontal for Christmas, and thus it seems that white flowers are also appropriate at the altar to carry out the symbolical purity of the occasion.
A plan of decoration which uses white on the altar and green for the rest of the church illustrates the rule of placing your decoration so that the attention is drawn to the eastern end.

White Poinsettia
"If we decide that altar flowers should be white on Christmas there are none more appropriate than Madonna lilies.  Their stately dignity and well-defined form carry at a distance.  However, the calla lily, or almost any other white flower in season, maybe used, providing it is arranged so that it carries as a mass arrangement and may be seen at the far end of the church.  White roses or carnations may be massed in oval bouquets and outlined in a fan of green foliage.  White gladioli, when their stems are cut down, are also effective.  Other white flowers for use at Christmas are cyclamen, white azalea, white primroses, and white poinsettias.  Two vases of flowers are sufficient if they can be arranged to carry at a distance.  If not, four vases may be used, or, in the case of the liturgical altar with its six decorative candlesticks, a vase of flowers may be placed between each candlestick, and vases of flowers may also be put in the niches of the reredos."
Patteson-Knight and St. Claire have this to say:
"Tradition dictates the use of broad-leaf or needled evergreens in the church on Christmas Day.  Holly . . . is especially preferred.  More recently this tradition has been extended to include poinsettias or, lacking them, a wealth of red flowers.  Even so, white is still the sacred color of Christmas.  No greater effect is needed that day than a white frontal and white flowers in white or gold vases besides gold candlesticks on the altar. 
"The choice of red or white flowers and the number of containers depends on the arranger.  Two vases should be sufficient, however.  If other containers are desired, they may be placed at the altar ends or on pedestals at either side. 
"The choice between red and white flowers may also depend on the coloring of the dorsal or reredos. Red is complementary to and blends well with dark tan interiors.  Any other color but white tends to thin out unless its mass is considerable.  In larger sanctuaries this is also true of white flowers, unless they are built up and backed with evergreens."
I think that for a Traditional Latin Mass in a small chapel, McClinton's idea of placing small vases of flowers between each of the candlesticks on the altar shelf is most appropriate.

Sources for text:  McClinton, Katharine Morrison; Flower Arrangement in the Church; (Morehouse-Gorham Co., New York, 1958), pp. 75-76; Frances Patteson-Knight and Margaret McReynolds St. Claire, Arranging Flowers for the Sanctuary (Harper & Bros., New York, 1961), p. 97.

Sources for images:
Madonna lily, photo by Maciel Godlewski, from Wikimedia Commons, some rights reserved (click for license)
White poinsettia, from Pixabay, public domain image

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