Your Excellency:

Two months ago, the priest in our parish removed six candles from the back altar of our church—the one that’s still against the wall—and replaced them with potted plants on either side of the tabernacle.  When asked why he had replaced the candles with plants, our priest replied that the candles were liturgically incorrect.

Soon, the number of plants began spreading across the front of the church.  The plants appeared mysteriously, as in that old science-fiction movie where alien pods intent on taking over the earth keep reproducing.  Potted plants turned the prayer space before Our Blessed Mother into a miniature garden; several taller artificial  plants clumped themselves around the pulpit; at one point during Eastertide, a fountain was added to this garden, popping on unexpectedly during Mass so that  some parishioners initially feared that a pipe in the sacristy had broken.

You will note, your Excellency, that I am not a fan of indoor flora.  Real plants belong outside; they shed leaves, emit pollen, attract insects, and often require more care than a dog, without the corresponding return in affection.  As for artificial plants, they are best left to the lobbies of  banks, motels, and government buildings.  (By the way, I have noticed that the priests who complain about the tackiness of certain religious statuary are often the very ones who adorn the church with artificial plants.  The priest who introduced the shrubbery to our church is the same priest who objected to statues in our church library: “I don’t want the library to become a shrine,” he said.  What a delightful idea, I thought, and I plan to mention the idea of a shrine with books to his successor.)

I wasn’t certain what to do.  At first, I considered playing commando, slipping into the church, and giving the plants the old heave-ho.  Then I remembered that scene in the World War II play Mister Roberts, in which Mr. Roberts throws the captain’s potted palms off the ship on which they are both stationed.  When he learns about the missing palms, the captain doubles the number of plants.  Fearing that a similar course of action on my part might cause the plants in our church to be restored arithmetically (or is that geometrically?), I decided to abide by our priest’s decision.  

Recently, however, I happened to witness, by way of television and a video machine (we live in a marvelous age, praise God), the Holy Father celebrating Mass in Rome.  Can you imagine my gape-mouthed astonishment when I suddenly espied candles rather than artificial bushes on the altar?  I crept closer to the television set—there were no prayers being offered at the moment, so I hope you won’t think me irreverent creeping about the carpet that way—to be certain that those candlesticks were not some sort of stiff, leafless plants such as ornamental cacti.  But no: There they were, big as life—candlesticks!

It shocked me to no end, Your Excellency, to realize that our Roman amigos   hadn’t yet replaced their altar candles with altar plants.  This negligence in liturgical ornamentation initially struck me as quite irresponsible on the part of the Vatican.  If  officials in the papal government can find the time to take the fig leaves off the figures on the Sistine Chapel, I thought, then surely they can find the time to put a few fig leaves on the altar.  However, the thought then occurred to me that the cause of this oversight might well stem from ignorance rather than deliberate negligence.  Is Rome possibly unaware of this change in decor?  Our brothers and sisters in the Vatican are, after all, quite busy, what with the  swarms of tourists, doddering dissident nuns, marching homosexuals, youth rallies, and the like.  What can the beleaguered servants of the Holy See know of the liturgical trends which we in the American Church are setting?

It was then that I thought of you, Your Excellency.  You see, if I write to the Vatican to inform the Holy Father that he needs to hie himself off to an Italian Kmart for some silk plants and potted geraniums, with the explanation that his altar candles are liturgically incorrect, why, he might not believe me.  At best, he might deem me impertinent.  After all, I am but a simple layman in the eyes of the Vatican, a yahoo, an anti-candlean meddler.  But you are a bishop, a prince of the Church—indeed, of the  American Church; a letter from you would surely do the trick in setting our pontiff right.

Along with your letter, if I may be so bold, I would suggest that you include a Burpee seed catalog and some seed samples.  (You might wish to check first to see whether customs officials allow for the posting of seeds.)  A gardener’s manual for indoor plants might also help break the ice and would set a positive tone regarding this decorative change.  You might consider enlisting homemaker and writer Martha Stewart as an amica curiae; she has a keen eye for this sort of interior design and seems to enjoy giving advice.

Better yet, it might be even more politic to ring up FTD and have some actual flora delivered to St. Peter’s.  Let me suggest several dozen large ferns and some of those big vases of assorted flowers which florists like to call “spring bouquets.” Some miniature gardening tools and a nice sprinkling can or two would undoubtedly please the custodial staff.  Since Saint Peter’s is not exactly ablaze with sunlight, might I also recommend that we offer to install some grow lamps?  We might even consider a diocesan fund drive—Peter’s Potted Palms rather than Peter’s Pence?—to raise money for plants.  I would gladly kick in a few dollars.

Many thanks for your kind ear.  I hope that you will find my idea useful.  Keeping you in my prayers,

Joe Ecclesia