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CNP Feedback - Red, Rite & Blue

by Gary D. Penkala

Q. Dear CNP:

Just read the article about the use of blue vestments during Advent, and, being someone who utterly detested the liturgical "reforms" of Vatican II, I actually believe that using blue rather than violet during Advent makes a great deal of sense! The spiritual mood of Advent is different from, and, in many respects, even diametrically opposed to, that of Lent, since Advent is the time to prepare for the birth of Christ while during Lent the faithful prepare for His death!

Another alternate color I've seen is crimson - a distinctly darker shade of red than that seen at Pentecost, etc. This is usually encountered during Holy Week (and formerly the last two weeks of Lent, when the fifth Sunday in Lent was called Passion Sunday).

Personally, I would like to see the Catholic Church go back to the old, pre-Vatican II days: bring back the old Octave of Epiphany, restore Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays before Lent (and make the fifth Sunday of Lent Passion Sunday again), use red vestments for the whole week of Pentecost instead of just on the day itself, and put Ascension and Corpus Christi back to Thursday where they belong! One variation that would make sense is the adoption of "Kingdomtide," a season formerly observed by the Methodist Church, which encompasses the last 13 Sundays before Advent, to be taken from the interminable "Sundays after Pentecost."

"Ordinary"-ly Weary

A. Dear "Ordinary"-ly Weary:

Thank you for your comments about the article concerning blue as a liturgical color.

You suggest that Advent and Lent may be diametrically opposed in respect to spiritual mood. From the Church's perspective, and on a fundamental liturgical level, these are both penitential seasons (hence the violet vestments!). Advent is a preparation for the Lord's coming (at the end of time, and as the God-Man into our world in the mystery of the Incarnation). It is a season of hopeful expectation, but also a season marked by John the Baptist's admonition to "Repent!" Lent is not solely (nor even mostly) a "preparation" for the Lord's death or for Easter. It is a distinct season of intense reflection, metanoia, penance, almsgiving, fasting, with a clear baptismal overtone (death and new life). While both seasons are penitential, they are not liturgically identical: Advent retains the Alleluia at Mass and the Te Deum at Sunday Office of Readings. But both strike the Gloria, both call for reduced organ music and flowers, and both require violet vestments.

We can wonder all we want about the advantages of various color schemes, but the Church has given us violet for both seasons (except for the "rose" Sundays: 3 Advent and 4 Lent). My article on blue vestments was in no way meant to argue the merits or drawbacks of a new liturgical color (that's a philosophical discussion). It was meant to point out the error in one's going beyond speculation to rebellious action which one knows to be disobedient. As stated in the article, I have no problem (and in fact support) segregating a parish's violet vestments into two camps: the "bluer" shades for Advent, the "redder" shades for Lent. The crux is that both camps are clearly violet. Wearing unmistakably blue vestments and trying to rationalize them as a "shade of violet" is insulting to any sighted members of the congregation, while calling blue a legitimate vestment color is an affront to the Church's liturgical authority.

I'm not sure of your background, but the idea of Advent blue, Holy Week crimson, and Kingdomtide are all grounded squarely in liturgical Protestantism. I believe Episcopalians, Anglicans and Lutherans use the colors you mentioned, and even add gray to the spectrum for Ash Wednesday. Kingdomtide certainly has Methodist connotations.

Like anyone who studies Liturgy, we often have questions about various rites or rubrics. I've long wondered why Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week revert back to violet rather than maintaining the more emotional color red from Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion. The answer, in characteristically Roman "intellectual" fashion (over the more "emotional" path one might expect from the Eastern rites), is that these days are definitely counted among the 40 days of Lent -- and Lent is violet! It makes perfect rational sense.

A similar example: For many years I'd observed the quite logical Protestant liturgical custom of celebrating the Transfiguration on the last Sunday before Lent (as a parallel to Christ the King before Advent). What symmetry, I thought, until a valid explanation was offered for reading the Transfiguration Gospel on the Second Sunday of Lent every year (from each of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke). After the account of the Temptation of Christ and the reality of evil, sin and temptation in the world (the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent), the Church offers the hopeful setting of the Transfiguration -- a glimpse of the majesty, glory and power of the Omnipotent Lord, who is our only recourse against evil, sin and temptation, as a means of bolstering our resolve to righteousness. The next three Sundays in Cycle A show us the Woman at the Well, the Healing of the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus -- three accounts of vital import to the RCIA candidates and all of us renewing our baptismal journey through Lent.

While I might like to see a differentiation in the long season of Ordinary (Ordinal) Time -- various shades of green?? -- I'm happy with the grand panorama that the Church year gives us here to explore the teachings, miracles and parables of Christ, a compendium of his three-year ministry in six short months. Not "interminable," but "abundant." Even without official title, there are ways to break this season lasting from the day after Pentecost until the day before Advent into smaller sections. We at CNP use the unofficial terms Winter Ordinary Time (Baptism of the Lord to Lent, exclusive), Summer Ordinary Time (Pentecost through the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, exclusive) and Fall Ordinary Time (the 23rd Week in OT through the 34th Week in OT). Music can help divide these seasons -- one can even change Mass settings or common Responsorial Psalms monthly.

This is all philosophical argumentation, however, valid in its search for meaning and pondering tradition and future development. Where clergy, liturgists and musicians often err is in their actualization of these "hypotheticals." Very carefully does the Church guard her liturgy! No one -- not a priest, not even a bishop -- may make personal changes to liturgical texts and rubrics. The Ordinary Form of the Mass is replete with options for almost every part of the liturgy. One would think we could be satisfied with the abundant freedom already present in the Eucharistic Liturgy, rather than personally "correcting" what we see as "faults."

Thank you again for writing. I always appreciate the opportunity for input and reasoned discussion on my favorite topic -- liturgy!

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