The altar decorations in church display the different liturgical seasons. The Catholic church follows a liturgical calendar, which indicates the seasons, feasts and colors to be used in the decorations as well as the priests' garments. The most significant feasts or seasons being observed by the Catholic church are Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. During these times, the altar is designed and decorated according to religious traditions, to help the faithful observe and celebrate such seasons appropriately.
Advent and Christmas
Make a wreath. The wreath should be made of a round evergreen, symbolizing the new and everlasting life brought forth by the birth of the savior. Place five candles on the wreath: three colored purple, signifying penitence as well as royalty, as the church welcomes the coming of the king; one colored pink or rose, to represent rejoicing now that Christmas is near and a white candle in the center to be lit on Christmas Eve, representing the "Christ candle."
Place the wreath in a prominent area of the altar, usually in front or on one side of the altar table.
Utilize flowers moderately at the altar and all throughout the church during Advent. As this is a time for awaiting the coming of the Lord Jesus, the altar display should be marked by simplicity. Keep flowers, garlands and other Christmas decors in moderation, expressing expectant joy but not yet the fullness of it, which is reserved for Christmas Day itself.
Decorate elaborately on Christmas Day, as befitting the birth of a king. Use live trees and plants as much as possible to depict the gift of life the Lord Jesus brings. Place the Nativity scene in a prominent area. Make it accessible to the congregation who would want to come close and pray, reflect on the beautiful scene and kiss the baby Jesus.
Lent and Easter
Use dried arrangements instead of fresh flowers during the Lent to signify the austerity of the season. Place rocks, bare tree branches and other symbols associated with the Scripture readings of the Lenten season throughout the altar.
Cover the cross religious statues with purple, violet or black cloth, after the fifth Sunday of Lent or after the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper. Alternatively, remove all religious statues from the church instead of simply covering them. According to EWTN, a global Catholic news network, the practice helps the faithful "to concentrate on the great essentials of Christ's work of redemption."
Unveil crosses after the Good Friday ceremonies; unveil all other images prior to the Easter Vigil Mass.
Place the statue of the Risen Christ on a prominent part of the altar on Easter Sunday. Decorate elaborately with fresh flowers, garlands and other Easter symbols throughout the church, to celebrate the Lord's resurrection and the gift of life and salvation it brings about for all Christians. The colors of the altar linens and priests' vests at this time are white and gold, symbolizing purity, hope of the resurrection and newness of life.