Don Enrico Finotti
The liturgical calendar prescribes that during Lent there should be no flowers on the altar, but in many churches this rule is not observed and it is not easy to observe it, because a funeral is enough to fill the church with flowers which are left for several days. How should a good sacristan behave?
To observe a liturgical disposition with conviction and with fruit it is necessary to understand its motivations. Lent is the time of the “desert.” In it is celebrated both the fast of the Lord for forty days, and the arduous forty-year journey of the chosen people to the promised land. Thus the Christian people undertake a new penitential itinerary every year, climbing “the holy mountain of Easter.” The “desert” is therefore the “icon” of Lent.
For this reason the liturgical tradition has to visibly create the austerity of the time, removing the flowers from the church. Naturally it is necessary to operate the passage from the visible symbol to the inner spirit: from the “desert” of the environment, to the austerity of a penitential life regime.
Unfortunately today there is a “spiritualist” mentality, which does not give sufficient attention to corporeity and in this way the liturgy is reduced to the word alone, without the varied and even more eloquent support of symbols. We must return to give credit to the symbolic language and reduce the excessive pressure of the word that is overwhelming our liturgies. Of course, it is not enough to remove the flowers materially; at the same time it is necessary to resort to good taste and creative intelligence. There is only an elimination in the rubrics [the instructions in the liturgical books printed in red, “ruber” in Latin — Editor], and there is an arrangement of the altar and of the whole church, which although without floral ornaments, knows how to make shine the sacred environment of a noble simplicity and knows how to arouse the fascination of what is essential.
It is not therefore a question of applying rules coldly, but of interpreting the “letter” and “spirit” of the liturgical provisions in the best possible way. In case of funerals or other occasions in which many flowers are brought to church, these can be transferred, after the ritual, to the cemetery or other sacred places, where there is normally no celebration.
However, solutions are always found, provided one is determined to offer to the parish a church that is always in keeping with the needs of the different times of the liturgical year. The proper observance of the absence of flowers allows to emphasize the median Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare (“Rejoice”). In it the approach of Easter arouses a special joy, which is expressed in the liturgical rose color, in the sound of the organ and in a measured floral decoration of the altar. This “mystical aurora,” which can be seen on the horizon and is expressed by a liturgical environment realized with intelligent love, infuses into the faithful, educated in the language of the liturgy, a sweet spiritual solace, which makes us already anticipate the paschal finality of penance. Only with this commitment and at the cost of this daily cure can a sacristan find new enthusiasm in his service. Instead, in the anonymous grayness of a perennial “ordinary,” the priest, the sacristan, and the whole community expose themselves to a dead spiritual tone and drag themselves along a colorless liturgical path.
(From Il mio e il vostro sacrificio. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.)