A life in the year of a Church through its fabrics
Holy Trinity, Jersey, along with many other churches across the English-speaking world, follows the Christian church year in its use of the Revised Common Lectionary for the Bible readings at its services. These invite us to reflect on different periods and events in the life of Christ.
Each of the main seasons of the church year has become associated by long tradition with a liturgical colour. These are reflected in the altar hangings and lectern falls as well as in the stoles worn by clergy.
Purple symbolises both royalty (partly because purple dye was tremendously expensive in the ancient world) and also mourning and penitence. It is used during the two seasons of preparation. The Church Year begins with Advent when the themes of the services look forward to the birth of Christ at Christmas and the ‘royalty’ motif predominates over the penitential aspect. In Lent, preparing for Easter these two themes shift places.
The great festivals of Christmas and Easter are celebrated in white symbolising light, purity holiness and joy. In some churches there will be a special set of altar hangings for just Christmas and Easter which are gold while white will be used in the remainder of the season.
Red, symbolising the passion of Jesus is worn on Passion Sunday. It also represents the fire of the Holy Spirit and the blood of martyrs so is used on Pentecost Sunday and on the feast days of saints who were martyred.
Finally, Ordinary Time is symbolised with green, the colour of growth, hope and eternal life.
All the modern altar hangings at Trinity have the triquetra as their main design. This pattern is celtic in origin and, in various forms, has come to be a recognised symbol of the Trinity.
In the Purple hanging: the triquetra is bracketed by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet - alpha and omega. This reminds us of the passages in the Book of the Revelation to St John where Jesus proclaims ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’’ Radiating out from the triquetra are what might, at first, seem to be flashes of colour; but look more closely and you can recognised stylised thorns and nails pointing us towards the events of Good Friday.
The White hanging: has the triquetra as the sun in a new dawn with bright shafts of light radiating from it and green shoots of new growth in the position occupied by the barren thorns of the purple hanging. As we look closely we can see these are the stems of lilies - a flower associated with death and resurrection and also with the Virgin Mary.
The Red hanging: is possibly the most dramatic. The vivid colour alone has impact. At Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit appears as a dove and at Pentecost the Spirit manifests itself as tongues of flame. In this hanging both of these symbols are used radiating from the triquetra.
In the Green hanging: the central triquetra has on either side the fruits of the earth symbolised in grapes and wheat. By ‘work of human hands’ these are transformed into bread and wine that we consecrate to become the body and blood of Christ.