Worship Aids
Appointments for Lent
(including Ash Wednesday and Holy Week)

Contents
  • Introduction
  • Paraments and Vestments
    • Ash Wednesday
    • Laetare
    • Holy Week
  • Veiling Crosses and Images
  • Flowers
  • Banners
  • Paschal Candle
    • Other Candles
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Palm Sunday
  • Maunday Thursday
    • Foot Washing
    • Stripping Altar
  • Good Friday
    • Adoration of the Cross
    • Tenebrae
    • Tre ore
  • Holy Saturday
Introduction

This page covers matters related to church appointments (colors, candles, flowers, etc.) for Lent, including Ash Wednesday and Holy Week.

If you have not reviewed the general information on planning liturgy, worship appointments, etc., please do so at our Worship Aids.

In former times, Lent has been one of two closed seasons, seasons in which certain public events were prohibited and the church desisted from its more celebratory activities and adornments. In the church, flowers were not employed, crosses and images were veiled, alleluia was not sung, and weddings and ordinations were not held. Of course, it was also a season of fasting. Some, though not all, of these practices were condemned by Luther and some of his confreres. Looking closely we see that his condemnations were not directed at the externals (i.e., the mere fact of the veiling of images) but at the internals (i.e., the disposition of the heart and mistaken notions that these practices were in some way meritorious, absolute necessities, or demanded on pain of excommunication). As one might expect, this developed into the exact opposite of Luther's spiritual admonitions. Some began to think that employment of these practices was absolutely forbidden.

Over time, practices of the past, even practices rejected by the Reformers, have come back into the life of the Lutheran church, and we may hope that their return has been salutary (and free of the issues that drew the Reformer's invective). Whether they are, in fact, salutary depends in no small part on two things.

  • Does the employment of or abstinence from any given practice assist us in our devotion to Christ, the hearing of his Word, or the curbing of our sin? To put it in Luther's starkly baptismal terms, will doing it or not help us to slay sin and die? Secondarily, we may ask, will it be of use or harm to my neighbor (so long as we remember that not all uses are salutary and not all harms are detrimental, as we tend to be pretty short-sighted in our calculus)?
  • Do we slide into thinking that the doing (or not doing) of the thing is sin in and of itself or meritorious for salvation? Do we understand that no one is going to Hell for not making the sign of the cross and that no one is going to Hell for making the sign of the cross?

The latter of the two is where most church fights take place with Pharisaical thinking on full display often on both sides of the issue. When we successfully get past that, we still have to deal with whether a given practice is salutary in its use or its non-use. It is often not an easy calculus because every person in the congregation is another variable.

With all this in mind, we make the following recommendations. For details on the design and execution of the liturgy, visit the appropriate pages:

Paraments and Vestments

The color for Lent is purple, but there are some exceptions and options.

Ash Wednesday

Black is used for Ash Wednesday, but, in the absence of black, purple may be used.

Laetare

Optionally, rose/pink may be used on Laetare (4th Sunday in Lent).

Holy Week

Holy Week is the most complex time of the church year when it comes to both liturgy and worship appointments. The color depends upon the day, keeping in mind that there are two different traditions.

Day
Color — Scarlet/Oxblood Tradition
Color — Non-Scarlet Tradition
Palm Sunday
Scarlet/Oxblood Purple
Holy Monday
Scarlet/Oxblood Purple
Holy Tuesday
Scarlet/Oxblood Purple
Holy Wednesday
Scarlet/Oxblood Purple
Maundy Thursday
Scarlet/Oxblood White
Good Friday*
Neutral Neutral
Holy Saturday (until Easter Vigil)
Neutral Neutral

Neutral indicates that there are no paraments in use. For exceptions to this norm, review the details for Good Friday.

N.B., in terms of liturgical colors, scarlet is not red; oxblood is not red. Paraments and vestments used for Pentecost, Reformation, ordination, and the days of martyrs are red. Scarlet or oxblood. It should be obvious that vestments/paraments with doves, flames, the word alleluia, or other symbols associated with Pentecost etc. are not proper to Holy Week.

Veiled processional cross
Processional cross veiled in purple sheer fabric with purple ribbon as a tie.

Veiling of Crosses and Images

Crosses and other images may be veiled during Lent. The veil may be purple or unbleached linen. If veils are available in the other colors employed during the season (i.e., black, rose/pink, scarlet, white), an attempt should be made to match the color employed for the paraments on any given day. If this is not possible, purple or unbleached may be used throughout.

If the cross cannot be fully veiled, draping is an alternative.

Banners

Banners may be employed during Lent, but they should clearly reflect Lenten themes. Banners of simple design in the appropriate colors work nicely. At the same time, a barer sanctuary is not out of keeping with the season. Banners should not employ the word alleluia.

Flowers

Traditionally, flowers do not adorn the sanctuary during Lent.

See the section on Palm Sunday for a discussion of palms.

Paschal Candle

The Paschal candle is not lit unless there is a baptism or funeral.

The Paschal candle's position is at the font.

If there is a funeral, the burning Paschal candle may be used in the funeral procession and then placed at the head of the casket once it has reached its place. If not used in the procession, pre-position the Paschal candle (unlit for safety reasons) near where the casket will rest so that it may be easily moved to the head of the casket, lighting the paschal candle after it has been put at the head of the casket.

Other Candles

The lighting and extinguishing of candles for the Sunday morning service is a matter of local custom. Some congregations have rather elaborate rituals for doing so. Others struggle to find acolytes. If lighting and extinguishing the altar candles has become a challenge, a congregation might follow the advice found in the Manual on the Liturgy—Lutheran Book of Worship: light the candles well before the service and extinguish them well after the service, doing so decorously but without pomp and circumstance. This can be done by ushers, the sexton, the altar guild, the pastor, etc., vesting to do so being optional.

Ash Wednesday

For details related to the preparation of the ashes, visit the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday page.

Palm Sunday

The employment of palms on Palm Sunday is commended. Be sure to order palms well in advance of the day. Consult your local florist. Palms may be used in procession. They may also be used to adorn the sanctuary as one would use flowers. In some places, palms are tied to the processional cross. If the Processsion with Palms entrance rite is used, the palms should be distributed to the congregants before the liturgy begins.


The Common Service Book (1917) made no mention of the reading of the Passion. The Service Book and Hymnal (1958) presented the Passion as an option. With the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), the reading of the Passion was presented as the norm, while the Gospel text of earlier lectionaries (Mt. 21:1-9) was incorporated into the newly recovered entrance rite for Palm Sunday, a rite that is not found in earlier hymnals of this line.

Beginning around the 1980s it became popular to use balloons (and other party decorations) in the decorating of the church for Palm Sunday. This was an attempt to make the day more festive in emulation of the excitement and joy of the crowd at Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Some of this also connected with an attempt to move away from the more dour and solemn mood of the typical Holy Communion service found in American Lutheran congregations that had been significantly informed by Pietism. Behind this was the movement to advance greater Eucharistic frequency. Ironically, the liturgical renewal movement had been slowly recovering older practices and assimilating Catholic practices, among them the reading of the Passion for the Gospel. The juxtaposition of the triumphal entry with the Passion is not a little perplexing. That may actually be a good thing. There is nothing tidy about the people shouting, "Hosanna!" one day and only a few days later shouting, "Crucify him!" With this in mind, care should be taken to adorn the church in keeping with the way the day is observed. Will it be Palm Sunday without the reading of the Passion, or will it include the reading of the Passion?

Maundy Thursday

Foot Washing

If foot washing is included in the liturgy, a basin, pitchers of water, and a sufficient number of towels for all those participating in the foot washing should be immediately available. If there are multiple foot washing stations, a basin for each should be provided. At each station, there should be a chair for the person whose feet are being washed. It is wise to have multiple worship assistants to run for water, distribute towels, and assist people to sit and stand.

Stripping the Altar

The concluding rite for the Maundy Thursday mass involves the stripping of the altar. This is done while Psalm 22 is being recited (or chanted). A sufficient number of people should be recruited to assist in this process. It is wise to designate a room near the sanctuary as the place for the worship appointments to go (even if only temporarily). It is equally wise to have one member of the altar guild in that room to facilitate the orderly reception of the worship appointments. It is also useful to have another member of the altar guild facilitate the removal of worship appointments. Several untrained participants can serve as transporters between the chancel and the temporary storage room.

The stripping of the altar has taken on symbolic significance, but it also served a practical purpose. With everything removed, the altar could be cleaned in preparation for the Easter celebration, the liturgical equivalent of spring cleaning.

Good Friday

The appointments for Good Friday depend, in part, upon what worship services are employed.

The altar should remain stript. As there will be no Eucharistic celebration on either Good Friday or Holy Saturday, there is no reason to dress the altar with linens or paraments.

The lectern/ambo/pulpit/reading desk can also be left unadorned, but, if some antependium is desired, it should be scarlet/oxblood or black.

More on Good Friday is coming in future updates, but the following is offered to get you started.

Adoration of the Cross

If the service for Good Friday as  appointed in both the LBW and the ELW is used, consult with the pastor (or supply preacher) about the cross to be used for the adoration of the cross.

Hearse
Tenebrae with candelabra
Tenebrae hearse with fifteen candles.
Alternative to the hearse: fifteen candles for Tenebrae employing two seven-candle candelabra and a central candlestick.

Tenebrae

If, instead, Tenebrae is held—though Tenebrae is more appropriate to Holy Wednesday—the hearse should be prepared in advance and set in the central line of sight. If the congregation does not have a hearse, candelabra may be employed; there should be a total of fifteen candles (seven on each candelabrum plus one central candle) arranged like a circumflex/caret. N.B., the Paschal is never used in Tenebrae.

Tre Ore

If a Tre ore service is held between 12:00 noon and 3:00 p.m., no particular worship appointments are indicated, but it would be hospitable to provide a supply of water for attendees and signage for any guests.

Holy Saturday

The sanctuary remains stript for any services held on Holy Saturday other than Easter Vigil.
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West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ℅ St. Paul Lutheran Church, 309 Baldwin Street, Morgantown, WV 26505
304-363-4030  +  Porter@WV-WMD.org

Last update: 15 February 2024