Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Important Role of Flowers in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

With so much beauty available to lift ones mind up to the Lord at Mass, one might be overwhelmed so as to recognize specifics that build up this mindset.

In his masterful work "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Liturgically, Dogmatically and Ascetically Explained", Fr. Nicholas Gihr explains the important that flowers play in offering divine worship to God in the Mass.  Below I have reprinted the section of the book that relates to this item.  Please take the time to read and see how every part of the Mass is an opportunity to draw one closer to God:

NLM Photo
"To decorate the altars, especially on great feasts, with flowers is an ancient, venerable, devout and praiseworthy custom, and, therefore, approved of by the Church.  Artificial as well as natural flowers may serve to adorn the altar; 3 but the latter are preferable.  The artificial flowers should be imitations of the natural, and should be well made and be kept clean ; for thus only can they, in a measure, supply the place of fragrant, bright, fresh flowers. Faded and worn out imitations are never to be suffered on the altar.

Fresh, bright and fragrant flowers growing in pots add to the decorations of the altar, making it beautiful and pleasing and, consequently, greatly contribute to enhance the celebration of the feast and to the edification of the people. A holy religious, the Capuchin Francis Borgia, used to say: "God has left us from Paradise three things: the stars, the flowers and the eyes of a child." In fact, flowers have in God's creation a place entirely their own ; they are on the globe of the earth what the stars are in the canopy of heaven uneffaced traces of a former world, the earthly Paradise, the least affected by the curse of sin. In the splendor of their colors, in their fragrance, they are revelations of the beauty and goodness of God, emblems of His benevolence, images of His first, true designs (Isa. 25, i). For all these reasons, flowers, besides lighted candles and incense, have their liturgical meaning, and are used to adorn the divine service.  By their fine and elegant forms and lovely colors they possess a peculiar charm to please and captivate both the heart and the senses, not without impressing us more deeply. These beautifully colored creatures are wonderfully formed by the light from the mud of the ground and colorless water. Truly flowers, those lilies of the field, which neither spin nor weave, and yet are so splendidly arrayed by the purity and perfection of their attire give us to understand that they are the handiwork of that Creator who created Paradise, from which they come, and that they have been left, as it were, to us as a remembrance thereof.

There is also a symbolical reason for adorning altars with flowers. Flowers possess a language all their own, they have a higher meaning; they are evident emblems of spiritual things. This is expressed in the Church liturgy itself. On the fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) the Holy Father blesses in Rome a golden rose with solemn prayer, anoints it with chrism, besprinkles it with perfumes and holy water, and incenses it. He prays at the same time, that God, who is the joy and happiness of all the faithful, may be pleased to bless and sanctify in its beauty and fragrance this rose, which we hold in our hands as a sign of spiritual joy; that His people, delivered from the captivity of Babylon, through the grace of His Only- Begotten Son, may even now partake of the happiness of the heavenly Jerusalem. Therefore, since the Church on this day to the honor of His name gives expression to her joy, may He grant her true and perfect joy and devotion, in order that she may by the fruit of good works shed forth a balmy odor like unto the perfume of that flower, who, springing from the root of Jesse, is called the flower of the field and the lily of the vale. If a Catholic prince deserving of such a gift is present, the flower is presented to him, with the words: "Receive from our hands the rose, which signifies the joy of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, that is, of the Church triumphant and militant, and which guides all the faithful to that lovely Flower, the joy and crown of all the saints. Accept it that you may be more and more enriched with every virtue in Christ our Lord, like unto the rose planted along the streams." Flowers may also, on account of their grace and loveliness, serve as emblems of the festive joy wherewith we should long for the altar of Christ, the Author of all true joy. Flores sunt signa laetitiae. Thus the adorning of the altar with flowers appears as a symbolical expression of that joy in which we may exclaim with the Psalmist: "How lovely are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! I have loved the place where Thy glory dwelleth."

Flowers also symbolize those supernatural prerogatives, graces and virtues with which the soul should be adorned; for the saints bloom as the lily and they are in the presence of God as the odor of balsam. Flowers, by reason of their freshness and beauty which they receive from the sun and which they turn towards it, are emblems of that innocence and holiness we derive from Christ, the Sun of Justice, and with which we again glorify Him as the Sun of our spiritual life. The flowers on the altar signify, moreover, that the blossoms of grace, prayer and virtue unfold in the supernatural light and in the heavenly warmth which radiates from the sun of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The flowers of the altar, at the same time, admonish us to make of our heart a garden for God with the flowers of virtue, so that Christ, who feeds among the lilies, may find His delight therein; for nothing gives Him so much joy as a heart adorned with the blossoms of purity. The flowers with which we ornament the altars on great feasts, therefore, symbolize the souls of the faithful, who adorn their interior with faith and with the grace of the Divine Victim, in order to receive the King of Glory and offer to Him their homage. In this connection, the Holy Ghost says to us: "Send forth flowers, as the lily, and yield a perfume and bring forth leaves in grace and praise with canticles and bless the Lord in His works" (Ecclus. 39, 19).

Blessed Henry Suso
It should, then, be a loving occupation for us to adorn the church, to decorate the altar and to enhance the beauty of divine worship with fresh and fragrant flowers. God is thereby honored, pious people are rejoiced and edified. On this subject we have a beautiful model in the Blessed Henry Suso. "When delightful summer came round and the delicate flowers appeared for the first time, he refrained from culling or even from touching them until the day had arrived on which he would gather them to greet his spiritual love, the gentle, the all-fair and lovely Maiden, the divine Mother. Thus he gathered the flowers with many a tender aspiration, and carried them to his cell to weave them into a wreath; he then went to the choir or to the chapel of our Lady and, kneeling humbly before her statue, he placed the lovely crown upon her head with the request: that since she is the loveliest of flowers and the summer- joy of his young heart, she would not despise the first flowers of her servant.

The altar is here on earth the most holy and the most venerable of all places our Bethlehem and Nazareth, our Thabor and Golgotha. To do honor to Him who here sacrifices Himself for us and who so graciously deigns to dwell among us, all the splendor and decoration of the temple lend their service. The altar, therefore, should be the most beautiful of all, and the pastor should have at heart, in a special manner, its adornment, so that he may in truth be able to say: Domine, dilexi decorum domus tuae et locum habitationis gloriae tuae "O Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth" (Ps. 25, 8)." 

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: Liturgically, Dogmatically and Ascetically Explained (Amazon Link)

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