One question which has been arriving in our mailbox frequently this month is : How do I decorate for Lent? We are aware that altar flowers disappear during this time (except for maybe the fourth Sunday, Rose Sunday)- not even greens as we allow in Advent. I have seen some churches which allow small memorial shrine flowers however. Many churches opt for an artful draping of fabric on the cross. Make sure the drape is substantial, -dramatic is fine, but you will want to avoid the orchid or lavender chiffon and tulle which looks rather like a nightie caught in a tree, and very frou-frou. Other churches veil all statues, cross, rood crosses, paintings, and any type of artistic diversion. Some churches have the raw linen Lenten array with diced fringe of black and oxblood, while others use Lenten violet (a red-violet usually) from Septuagesima right throughout Lent. And some churches no longer mark the “gesimas” but rather use Epiphany 5, 6, etc. If there is one season where diversity reigns, it must surely be Lent.
The origin of the Lenten veil is carefully described in this excerpt from The Chancel of English Churches by Francis Bond, pages 101-105. You may read this interesting history at this link http://books.google.com/books?id=eoxmAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA101&dq=Lenten+decoration+of+churches&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html using the page turning arrows at the top of the article.
The photo above is Rochester cathedral on Palm/Passion Sunday. A beautiful red frontal, and the reredos is completely veiled with the neutral unbleached linen but oddly enough the cross is swathed in transparent purple veiling. Veiling on objects should not be transparent- it defeats the purpose of veiling in the first place. If your sacristy has a simple wooden cross and candlesticks, the fancy brass ones are better retired until Easter Vigil evening service. Here are some more wonderful Lenten frontals in the UK http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://farm1.static.flickr.com/62/195400854_7bf0caf3a2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.flickr.com/photos/vitrearum/195400852/&usg=__QeeiPke7FTY6u7zBFGz0-XOsSms=&h=332&w=500&sz=109&hl=en&start=24&tbnid=OqOD5DHz5AltvM:&tbnh=86&tbnw=130&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dlenten%2Barray%26start%3D20%26gbv%3D2%26ndsp%3D20%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26ie%3DUTF-8
In my travels I have seen some very effective uses of dried grasses, teasels, Scottish broom,thorns, sea holly, and twisted willow utilized in stark designs which visually evoke some of the themes of Lent. These are generally not on the chancel but in secluded corners for meditation, in the narthex or porch or a side chapel. This may also be a good time to have a small notebook in which visitors to the church may write down prayer petitions.
I am looking forward to visiting area churches over the Lenten season and seeing how each parish prepares their worship space. If you have photographs to share of your Lenten preparations, please send them to Revdma@aol.com. Now is the time to check on supplies of wine, altar bread, palms to burn for Ash Wednesday, candles, and other Lenten needs.