People come to church to enter the dwelling place of God. According to The Catholic Liturgical Library (http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm), "The whole church should be arranged so as to invite adoration and contemplation even where there are no celebrations. One must long to frequent it in order to meet the Lord there . . .." How to decorate the church throughout the year without overdoing it is an art.
Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany
Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is the time to mark the preparation for receiving the Holy Child, the Light of the World. A large advent wreath (2 to 4 feet in diameter) is a simple and elegant way to mark the season. It can be suspended from the ceiling or placed on a large pedestal. Purple and pink candles are traditional for Advent; royal blue is even more ancient. Having an advent wreath as the only decoration fits the simplicity of the Advent season.
As Christmas approaches, some churches set up a nativity scene, and may use the scene as part of a children's service on Christmas Eve. For Christmas, add red and rose flowers and foliage with red accents in a lavish display. Change the candles to white for Christmas, adding a central white-pillar Christ candle. Some churches hang swags of greens for the 12 days of Christmas and put green boughs around the pedestals holding statues of the saints and the stand holding the Pascal Candle. Others bring in a tree for placing gifts of food or other items for people who might otherwise do without. Epiphany, the coming of the light to the world, can feature white and gold colors arranged in a star burst or galaxy of stars. A banner of the Wise Men or gifts can highlight the season. Some prefer the green color with plants of philodendron on a trellis or ferns in brass planter boxes.
Lent, Easter and Pentecost
Lent is a period for reflection and repentance. Crosses are draped in purple or black sheer or solid fabric. Liturgical colors are purple or beige. Most dioceses suggest that the shrouding of the cross wait until the fifth Sunday of Lent.
Palm Sunday has veiled crosses covered in palm branches. Holy Thursday may have an indoor re-creation of a shaded garden for the adoration of the blessed sacrament. (After the stripping of the altar and emptying of the tabernacle that normally holds the reserve sacrament, whatever consecrated wafers or wine remains is placed in the "garden'" for adoration.) Easter celebrates the resurrection with lavish displays of flowers. Lilies are traditional, but many are moving to a multi-color display including azaleas, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips. Place a floral arrangement on the stand which will hold the Pascal Candle. Pentecost is a season of fire and wind. Red, yellow and orange are all appropriate colors and some use helium balloons in all these colors attached to pews. These balloons are very attractive to children who love to take them at the end of the service.
Spring and summer flowers make wonderful decorations for churches. In the fall, asters and chrysanthemums as well as dried flowers can be used in floral arrangements. Adding a few live red flowers in little individual tubes make arrangements more striking whatever the season. Using national colors for national holidays, and produce in abundance for Thanksgiving and harvest festivals are ancient traditions.