Not far away from here is a church whose previous incumbent-but-one ran it into the ground. Among his idiosyncrasies was scorning such festivities as the Harvest Festival and Remembrance Sunday, which he denounced as 'folk religion' and would have nothing to do with. Now our Anglican Harvest Festival, as we now know it, we owe to that equally idiosyncratic High Churchman Parson Hawker of Morwenstow, that latter-day Celtic Saint who was almost definitely the first Anglican clergyman to celebrate Mass in a chasuble (home-made) and led his pets into church in a procession. But he was very much in favour of 'folk religion'; High Anglicans who came after him were often more fastidious.
'Harvest Festivals have been much abused by excessive displays of greengrocery', declares Percy Dearmer in The Parson's Handbook of 1904, 'but this is no reason why they should not be observed'. Such observation, suggests this most tasteful of clerics, could take the form of the principal Mass of the day, provided 'the appointed order of Psalms and Lessons at Mattins and Evensong not be interfered with'; or, alternatively, there may be 'a procession and Te Deum after Evensong'. However, the great Percy warns,
As for the decorations, let them be mainly flowers and greenery. A few typical fruits of the earth, such as grapes and corn, might be added; but these should not be placed on the Holy Table nor on any of its ornaments, and all should be removed after the Te Deum in the evening.
The more Romanist Ritual Notes is even firmer:
Thanksgiving for the Harvest ought not to be treated as a festival of the Church and should not be allowed to displace a feast of red-letter rank, and certainly not a Sunday or feast of the 1st class. If a special mass be celebrated - with the permission of the bishop - it should be additional to the parochial mass of the day and conform to the rules for solemn votives ... It is most undesirable to deck the church with displays of bread, fruits and greengrocery. Such articles, if offered for presentation to the sick and poor, should be arranged decorously and inconspicuously, but not within the chancel or sanctuary.
However a priest could mark the Harvest by adding the prescribed Collect to the Collect of the Sunday at Mass, offer the compilers.
Of course what you have in all this, quite apart from considerations of taste, is a perfectly understandable concern to defend the church building and the Sacred Mysteries to which it is dedicated from being taken over by non-religious concerns and interests. Sanctity should be defined, calibrated, and generated by the sacrifice of Christ, and the business of the Church is to state and restate that sacrifice forever. That's what the Church is for.
And yet at the same time it's all unspeakably prissy. God's presence is not only signified by the Mass and nothing but the Mass, still less the calendrical rules and rubrics by which is quite rightly governed. There is room for Godly vulgarity.
And here is some: the Harvest Loaf, made by a mother from the congregation and placed resplendently on the Holy Table (which also bore, at least for the Infants Harvest, a gigantic brass stone-studded cross and a pair of positively outrageous Gothic candlesticks in the same style). I think it looks fantastic.
To spare Bd Percy from in sepulchro gyration at the horrendous sight, I have not photographed the masses of tinned goods and pasta surrounding the Holy Table and waiting to be shipped off to the Food Bank in Hornington.