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No Purple? What's Up? It's Lent!


Welcome to the natural beauty of the Lenten Array, a particularly Anglican tradition in widespread use around the world by parishes, abbeys, and cathedrals across our communion. 

Dating back to the Middle Ages, Lenten Array altar-adorning designs were used to help Christians prepare, discover, and journey through the 40 days of Lent as they focused on the ideas and disciplines similar to the novice-converts in their communities who sought baptism and confirmation at Easter. During the season, the Array visually redirected the Lent-Traveler’s attention toward inner meaning and purity and away from visible, worldly distractions of fine, rich, vivid colors and shiny metals, such as silver and brass. 

The natural simplicity of unbleached linen and earth-tone colors is central to Lenten Array’s design aesthetic, in addition to the use of pottery and wood for communion vessels, crosses, and ritual objects and the veiling of altar crosses depicting the Risen Christ (Christus Rex).

The Lenten Array altar set designed for St. John’s by David Gibbs, a new parishioner and gifted materials artist, incorporates elements, motifs, and iconography that beckon to each of us:

 Floral imagery and dried flower arrangements depict the desert wilderness where Jesus spent forty days preparing for his ministry. 
 Large Latin characters INRI remind us of Christ’s chosen path, the cross, by referring to the sign Pilate placed as Jesus lay dying: Jesus Of Nazareth, King Of The Jews. 
 Subtle and beautifully incorporated beading evokes (at least to the author) miraculous manna, which sustained the Israelites as they journeyed during the exodus, and which, in turn, subtly points to what sustains us now: the Eucharist.

While diverging from an overt “royalty” evoked by the color purple, the Lenten Array is at the same time not the opposite—a cue for asceticism or a guilt-ridden demand for us to gnash teeth or wear sackcloth and ashes. Rather, it is an invitation to undertake a journey we have traveled before, albeit along a different, more inward-focused path. A journey that leads us to the same destination: Easter.

An Addendum

If you would like to see “what is out there” in the world of the Lenten Array, you are encouraged to use Google Images to find all sorts of design concepts and deployments. Many traditional designs focus on geometrical imagery and use dark red and black as accent colors; others are more modern. All are unique; they warrant and lend to the designer the opportunity to add to the conversation by aligning with established tradition while incorporating (and saying) something new.

Also, a brief word about veiling crosses: To many, veiling all crosses and images of the cross is an altar-guild tradition cherished at St. John’s and in many “liturgical” traditions, such as Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. Our national church, in familiar fashion, provides guidance by creating the space for “using the veil” during Lent while not making cross-veiling a requirement. This year (2017), given that our two wooden processional crosses are almost never used or seen in public worship, it was decided by the Altar Guild that cross-veiling would be limited to our altar crosses.