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Readying the Church for Passion Sunday and the Triduum  
Mary Patricia Storms  

Among the assembly on Palm Sunday and Good Friday are many who do not attend weekly Sunday Mass. The cross draws the faithful close; we come longing for the wonder of its mystery. Holy Week and the sacred Triduum foster full, active participation in the Paschal Mystery that brings the Church ever close to God.

Mindful preparation for this week allocates time for the art and environment team to make smooth, prayerful transitions from Passion Sunday to the Easter Vigil. Inviting members of the parish to help accomplishes three goals: freeing prayer time for the art and environment team, welcoming liturgical participation for those who might feel too busy, and providing catechetical experiences for those who assist. Children who help their parents carry plants in a procession will remember the liturgy far longer than those who stayed in the pews; the baker who prepared unleavened bread for the Holy Thursday celebration will feel a deepening of prayer as the priest prays, "Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made."

Before Christmas, gather with your core team to study the scriptures. Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil have distinctive faces. Discuss the rituals, so that both the flow and theology are understood. Palm Sunday's procession, Holy Thursday's foot washing, Good Friday's veneration of the cross, and the Baptisms of the Easter Vigil need special attention from the art and environment team. Inviting the pastor and parish liturgist to these early meetings is important. Consult your notes from prior years; what has worked well? What needs to be changed?

Determine the non-negotiable elements of each liturgy. For example, Passion Sunday calls for red vesture, Holy Thursday's color is white, Good Friday's is red, and the Easter Vigil is white. The weekdays between maintain the violet vesture of Lent. The parish procession of oils from the Chrism Mass happens at the Mass of the Lord's Supper. The pastor and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults team coordinate the Baptisms. Tapping into the natural flow of the rituals can assist with your tasks: the flowers that ornament the sanctuary for the Mass of the Lord's Supper may be removed as part of the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the chapel.

Ritual changes from the 2002 Roman Missal regarding the Triduum are available at the U.S. Bishop's Committee for Divine Worship Web site. "Fourteen Questions on the Paschal Triduum" answers common queries regarding these celebrations.

Begin a task list and delegate to-do items. Check on the parish environment budget. Someone can call a floral supplier while another inventories fabrics and materials; a veteran member may create a complete task list, or each member of the committee might plot the tasks and materials for a particular day.

At your next meeting, review the task lists that have been created. Determine which tasks can be delegated to members of the community and begin recruiting. Invite people to participate in concrete ways. Will plants need to be trimmed and repotted? The towels for foot-washing and immersion Baptisms will need to be laundered. An outdoor fire to begin the Easter Vigil needs a tender. Personal invitations to complete a specific task generate the best and most volunteers. Once-a-week work meetings during Lent assure everything is ready for the decorating marathon of Holy Week.

The ministry of art and environment serves a single purpose: engaging the senses to help the faithful enter more fully into relationship with God. Familiar sights and smells evoke memories of celebrations past; new scents and displays facilitate a glimpse of the eternal. Rely on both.

Passion Sunday begins as the assembly, with palm branches in hand, gather to hear the Gospel account of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. In less than a week, our Messiah will be both greeted with "Hosanna!" and hang humiliated on a cross. Red dominates this day, but glimpses of violet remain as the weekdays leading to Triduum are still to come. Streamers of red ribbon with thin violet trimmings can be displayed atop banner poles, suspended from hooks (swivel hooks sold with fishing equipment will move in the wind without twisting the ribbons) or carried. Palm branches will be distributed and blessed for home use; use larger fronds to decorate the walls of the church and place branches amid the greenery of existing plants. This is a logical time to purchase new potted palms that will be used throughout the year. Inexpensive red blooms, such as carnations or alstroemeria, may be placed in vases among plants, but save lavish floral arrangements for Easter. Simple red banners may adorn the walls of the church. Be judicious in your effort-Passion Sunday should look festive compared to the austerity of Lent, but like the crowds lining the streets of Jerusalem, its celebration is short-lived. Leave the flowers, palms, and fabrics in place for the weekdays of Holy Week.

Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, celebrated on Holy Thursday evening. Aside from Morning Prayer, there are no other celebrations this day; wait until after Morning Prayer to transform the church. Decorating should be done in moderation (Missale Romanum, Mass of the Lord's Supper, #5). Red banners need to be removed and stored; white banners may-but need not-replace them. Blooming plants such as mums, daisies or kolanches, and new ivy plants can be used today and become filler for your Easter plan. Set up foot-washing stations in places where the assembly can easily see the ritual. Position plants in the sanctuary, taking care not to obscure the altar or obstruct the path of the ministers. Make sure the pitchers, basins, and towels for the foot washing are of ample size.

The place where the Blessed Sacrament will be carried for repose must be simply decorated. Those in procession can carry the white candles and plants from the church. After the church is empty, the altar should be stripped in preparation for Good Friday. All other plants and candles should be removed.

Plan to prepare the church for the Liturgy of the Lord's Passion and death after Friday's Morning Prayer. Simple preparations are in order. Use red fabric sparingly to veil the cross that will be used for veneration, making sure it can be gracefully removed in sections. Choose a cross that will permit the veneration by the people in "due time" with "decorum and devotion" (Missale Romanum, Rubrics for Good Friday, #19). No other decorations should be used.

Saturday morning, after prayer, with the many volunteers you have recruited, (make sure that a task list is posted where all can see it, and that materials are at hand) begin decorating the church. Easter Vigil is the high point of Triduum, which will conclude with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. The Vigil begins outdoors, after sunset, with an Easter fire. The candles held by the assembly will be lit from the paschal candle, which is first lit from the Easter fire. By candlelight, people enter to hear the word of God.

The primary symbol of Easter is Baptism. The font should be accented but not overshadowed by decor. Banners made of white fabric may be suspended above the font; place groupings of plants and candles nearby but not in the path of the procession of those to be baptized. Groupings of plants, fresh flowers, and candles throughout the church emphasize the glory of the Resurrection. Easter lilies are often used; tulips also speak of spring and later can be planted in parish gardens. Group smaller plants in large, shallow baskets for a bigger effect. Gold and silver fabrics and ribbons woven among the plants or covering candle stands will echo glory. Place fresh arrangements at the sites of your dedication candles; a wreath of flowers may encircle the base of the paschal candle.

When those entering the church are welcomed by a splendid environment-fresh flowers in the narthex, or streamers of white and gold at the entrance-they are primed for the wonders God reveals in scripture and ritual this night. Christ is risen! So also may we.

Mary Patricia Storms
is chair of the theology department of Archbishop O'Hara High School in Kansas City, Missouri, and Confirmation coordinator for St. John Francis Regis, Our Lady of Lourdes, and St. Bernadette's parishes.
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