The Custom of Festal Greenery in Homes and Churches

Recently some photos were shared showing the first Solemn Mass of Fr. Gwilyn Evans, FSSP on Saturday, June 25th, the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, in a parish church in Gestratz, Germany.  What is of particular interest in the photos is the use of cut boughs of greenery and it provides an opportunity to share some of the customs related to this.

It seems quite possible that this greenery was carried over from the week prior when Corpus Christi was observed (and quite possibly even the feast of Pentecost shortly before that), for in parts of the Catholic world this was customary -- not only for the churches, but even for the the decoration of the houses along the processional route which would be so decorated with greenery. Similarly, we only recently detailed how sprigs of myrtle were used within the papal procession of Corpus Christi.  

However, it wan't only at Corpus Christi that we would see this sort of festal usage of decorative greenery. Obviously Advent and Christmas sees this happen with the use of holly, ivy and evergreen, and so too does the Feast of Pentecost in some parts of the world. It has been a longstanding custom in both East and West to decorate both homes and churches for Pentecost with not only flowers but in some places cut greenery. In fact, in Poland Pentecost is referred to as the "Green holyday" ("Zielone Swieta") precisely for this reason. We also see something similar observed in the Christian East in places such as Russia.

Pentecost in Russia

Similarly, Easter time in Poland also saw the custom of decorating one's home with greenery.  

Of course, if all this seems foreign, it really isn't, for most of us already have a very direct familiarity with this type of custom at Christmas -- when we see holly, ivy and evergreen used for decoration; so much familiarity in fact that we might not even stop to think about the co-relation between that custom and these mentioned here. 

It is probably worth remembering as well that, traditionally, within the city of Rome itself there was a longstanding tradition of using greenery such as boxwood or the like for important feast days. 

All of this brings to the fore once again the venerable custom found in our churches and homes of the use of such elements on particularly festal occasions. Regrettably, outside of Christmas and Easter, and with the rise of liturgical minimalism, many have lost touch with this aspect of liturgical life, and so I'd invite those interested to revisit one of our articles on this subject, Accenting the Liturgical Rites: Thoughts on the Tasteful Arrangement of Flowers in Churches

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