The Armchair Liturgist: Killing the Lily?

My parish’s Art & Environment Committee met last night to wrap up Easter evaluation and get Pentecost and summer plans straightened out. This year’s Easter lilies seemed to fade quickly. Our church now looks like any of our other well-flowered weekends. The flowers are nice and robust (what’s left of them) but they have little suggestion of Easter.

Here’s the armchair liturgist question for the day: are lilies worth it? People seem to expect them, and nobody in my parish has bucked that expectation in my two years here. But do they have the staying power for Fifty Days?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to The Armchair Liturgist: Killing the Lily?

  1. Ben says:

    You could bring up the even thornier issue of live versus fake. My parish recently bought silk poinsettias and lilies because an associate pastor is highly allergic.

  2. Thom says:

    I say that yes they’re worth it, but not to the exclusion of potted tulips and hyacinths. Have a variety, and simply carry them out as they brown. Cut flowers can be just as celebratory.

  3. David says:

    To the extent that lilies speak of Eater to the cultures of the people in the parish, they’re great. There are many varieties of lilies–even potted ones. When our potted ones died, we began using cut ones. Some varieties lasted longer than others, and we haven’t sorted through which were which yet. Principles of progressive solemnity might help distinguish Eastertime from the rest of the year. Easter should be as good as it gets in terms of the amount and placement of flowers. For example, we have a set of four floor-standing candle stands. During Ordinary Time, two flank the altar, and two the ambo (except in Lent, one) During Easter, the paschal candle is near the ambo, so all four flank the altar. Floral arrangements are attached to them rather than pots sitting on the floor, as our church is in the round and there is no front or back. Only at Easter, Christmas and anniversary of dedication do we have four candles with lush floral arrangements flanking the altar. Other times its two. (At Christmas, we put seven-candle candleabra at the ambo to honor the Incarnate Word.) The lushness of the arrangements and the color schemes all help distinguish the seasons and degree of solemnity.

    When our potted lilies died weeks ago, our flower-shopper chose other types of flowers in colors that complemented the altar cloth and the hanging fabric of Eastertime, and the whole thing keeps saying “Easter.” So reserving a color scheme to Easter might help after the lilies die.

    We also use a floral scent of incense from Holy Rood Guild, Spencer MA only at Easter time, and that smell over three years has come to mean “it’s Easter.” I simply put it away after Pentecost so that the sacristans won’t use it the rest of the year.

    A good challenge is to look around at your locale and see what native flowers speak of the seasons, even if they are not hothouse-available.

    St. Nicholas, Evanston IL

  4. Michael says:

    Our parish also made the switch to artificial flowers for Easter and Christmas a few years ago – after 2-3 years with our current priest we came to realize that his allergies (which caused him to even have to miss some Masses) were directly related to the live flowers. Come to find out, there were many in the parish who were also being affected by the live flowers.

    We were blessed to find and be able to invest in some high-quality artificial flowers that look almost real.

    Donations that used to pay for the flowers during the seasons now go toward memorials and have a longer-lasting impact on the parish.

    • John says:

      We are in the process of looking for an artificial flower supplier. Could you possibly list your source? Thank you.

  5. Anne says:

    There is no place in the liturgical environment for fake flowers or plants,IMO. I don’t believe that people would or should give them much thought. Why bother? “Artificial” doesn’t point to Christ or the Paschal Mystery. Buy real lilies and other plants and flowers that need care.

  6. David says:

    I agree with Anne that the sign value is lost when artificial flowers that are made deliberately to look real are used in the place for liturgy. I think this even more strongly after reading Linda Gibler’s book From the Beginning to Baptism: Scientific and Sacred Stories of Water, Oil, and Fire. Liturgical Press, 2010. (See what she writes about flowering plants in the section on oil. Amazing what flowers “mean.”)

    In November, in addition to using real marigolds, we do decorate some arches under which people enter with paper flowers in yellow and orange. We don’t try to make them look like living flowers–they are a folk art form, made by hand, speak to the culture of our people, lovely in themselves. I’ve seen other paper flowers that would worthy to be used for liturgy. But still, they lack the meaning of living flowers that are signs of life coming out of death.

    Another loss when artificial flowers and greens are used: the wonderful smells.

    I sympathize about allergy issues. Perhaps an allergist could advise. Maybe removing the anthers and stamens would address pollen allergies?

  7. Liam says:

    One assumption lurking beneath the question is that the floral decorations for the Easter Octave need to last for the 50 days. That’s asking too much of any floral decoration. Why not consider an evolving decorative scheme for the 50 days (ditto for Christmastide btw) – build from Easter to Ascension and Pentecost (and build from Christmas to Epiphany). Fortunately, spring is an easy time to do this.

    But the expectation of a static floral design for seven straight weeks strikes me as unnatural.

  8. Liam says:

    Btw, has anyone ever commissioned parishioners to buy spring-flowering bulbs in the fall for forcing and sequence blooms over a couple of months? Might be much more cost-effective…

  9. smf says:

    As an allergy sufferer myself, I always love the sight and smell of the flowers at Easter, but I know that it is a sort of doom as well. All too often, in fact, I am already so beset by allergies that the smell of the Easter flowers is never able to be smelt.

    On a related note, I have found that certain times incense can lead to a nearly asthma like allergy attack, while at other times it does not bother me at all. I think this had to do with the type of incense and the way it is burned, both in some combination.

    I am rather a fan of artificial Christmas trees and other Christmas greenery, but I am not sure what I think about fake flowers.

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