Flowers for Communion at the Altar

Updated February 21, 2017

The Easter season is a time of celebration in the Catholic Church and it is at that time of year, in spring, that children receive their First Communion, one of the most important sacraments in the Church. Many of the flowers used to decorate the Easter altars are symbolic for communion as well; if the communion ceremony closely follows Easter, the altar flowers are refreshed and used for both services. To symbolise innocence and purity, the flowers commonly used for communion are white.


Easter lilies and calla lilies are most likely to be used for altar flowers during the First Communion Mass or service. The colour and fragrance symbolise the purity and sweetness of the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some lilies are called Madonna lilies and legend holds that the angel who announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of God held out a sheaf of white lilies to her. The image is found in many religious paintings. Some churches mass banks of lilies around and behind the altar, while others feature prominent stands of lilies in the front of the altar near the communion rail. Generally, in an all-white altar arrangement, lilies are mixed with other white flowers, accented with greenery and filled in with large amounts of baby's breath.

White Roses

White roses are a close-second favoured choice for spring altars where First Communion is celebrated. They are often mixed in with lilies; long-stemmed roses are a match for the tall lily stalks, and sprays of smaller roses fill in lower areas of a formal arrangement. It has been traditional to use lilies and roses on Easter and on communion altars --- the roses stand for purity and joy, the emotions of the devoted as they welcome young children into participation in an important ritual. According to a survey by "The New York Times," Easter altar flowers in Manhattan churches in the 19th century were decorated with arrangements of lilies and roses interspersed with passion vine, white lilac, violets and spring flowers. According to Women for Faith and Family, an orthodox Catholic women's organisation, roses symbolise perfect love, Mary, the Queen of Heaven and the presence of the miraculous. The thorns of the rose bush remind Christians of the crown of thorns worn by Christ at the crucifixion. Roses and lilies are still blended into altar garlands and sprays for services during May, the month of Mary, when most First Communion Masses take place.

Mixed White Flowers

Children making their First Communion carry small posies of white sweetheart roses, white carnations and lily of the valley, or wear a single white carnation as a boutonnière. These flowers are all used for altar arrangements in the churches where the services are held. Some churches wrap garlands of white flowers and green leaves around the communion rail before the altar where the faithful kneel to take communion. Some place large sprays of flowers next to the altar, and some revive the custom of scattering flower petals, usually roses, before the altar. White flowers echo the liturgical colour for vestments worn by the priests and also for altar cloths and banners during and after Easter and the holy days that follow when communion celebrations are scheduled. White gladiolas and daisies may be added to, or substitute, for traditional lilies and roses in altar arrangements.

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About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .