Altar Flowers: A Beautiful Offering to God
In our Spirituality class this semester, we read some of St Terese of Lisieux’s book, The Story of a Soul. Everyone knows her as “The Little Flower,” because she saw herself as Jesus’ little white flower and she speaks of nature, gardens, and all sorts of flowers often. St Terese says, “[The Lord] opened the book of nature before me, I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own.” (Ch 1, par.4 ) Reading this, it occurred to me that arranging the flowers for the altar has really helped me appreciate this statement!
To prepare the altar flowers, I go to a large wholesale flower distributor, where they have a huge walk-in cooler with hundreds of flowers, greenery, and other plants. I usually buy three different kinds of flowers and two types of green, leafy “filler” plants. While the store has a huge selection, it is not the whole “book of nature.” Still, it can be overwhelming to choose only a couple varieties when there are so many amazing flowers available.
Back at the seminary, I unpack the flowers and put them temporary vases, so they can open up and I can easily work with them. Unpacking them is the first time you really get your hands on the flowers and their stems, so you get a good feel for what you are working with – leaves or thorns, thick stalks or thin stems, tender shoots or burly branches!
I begin to arrange the flowers for the altar by putting a background of greenery in the vase first. Then, I place the “feature flowers” in the vase evenly so they can all be seen. Next, I place some secondary blossoms strategically in between the feature flowers. After that, I use “filler flowers” to fill in any gaps in the arrangement. Lastly, I place greenery around the sides and the front. That completes the process.
Preparing the altar flowers for the last two months has opened my eyes to the amazing beauty and diversity of nature, as well as a new richness of spirituality. Firstly, these flowers I am handling come from all over the world: Ecuador, Colombia, Australia, Florida, Oregon, California, and Texas. As I work with each flower, it gives me an opportunity to pray for the country and the people who grow the flowers. This natural diversity reminds me that the Catholic Church is worldwide and just as diverse as the flowers of nature. Secondly, some the species of flowers are very delicate. I must be very careful not to break the stem or damage the bloom as I am placing it in the vase. A damaged flower is a waste of God’s creation because I cannot use it in the arrangement. This reminds me to treat others with kindness and tenderness, because each person has a dignity of their own, which must not be damaged or wasted. Lastly, when the arrangement is complete, I put it on the altar and step back to look at it. I no longer see a bunch of individual flowers, but a single arrangement, a collage of colors, an artistic display. Every single flower has disappeared, and in their place, a whole bouquet has emerged. In a sense, the art of flower arranging is a kind of floral pointillism – that neo-impressionist style of painting that uses only tiny dots of paint which the viewer’s eye blends together to produce a whole image. Hopefully, my flower arrangements give glory to God and add to the beauty of our chapel.
St Terese of Lisieux, pray for us.
Written by Nathan Davis, Seminarian for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter