Why can’t we use blue for Advent vestments? Isn’t purple more for Lent? Sometimes I see blue vestments for Masses that aren’t during Advent. — Appleton
Recently, you saw the arrival of a wreath, purple banners and altar cloths, purple vestments and more. These are all signs that the church has entered another season.
By the color — violet or purple — we might note that the tone of the season we entered is penitential in nature. Now before I start getting letters from canonists and well-meaning folks — not that canonist are not well-meaning — I realize that, according to canon law (n. 1250), Advent is not technically a penitential season. However, the wisdom and practice of the church for centuries has encouraged the faithful to pay greater attention to practices of prayer and penance in order to empty and clear out the “stuff” of our lives that prevents us all from more fully welcoming the birth of Christ.
This is a common time that parishes host penance services and prayer serves focused on the theme of joyful anticipation. Though Advent may seem a bit different this year, and communal penance services are discouraged in parishes due to COVID-19, we are all called to remember that we need to prepare ourselves for the incarnation of our Lord at the end of our Advent journey, Christmas.
Getting, finally, to the actual question, the church utilizes the a hue of violet/purple which may be a shade lighter than what we use in the Season of Lent, but blue is not used during the season of Advent. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, “Violet or purple is used in Advent and Lent” (n. 346d). Unfortunately, the color blue is not used during Advent or really for any season of the church year because it is not, as a general rule, a liturgical color.
There are exceptions to the rule, of course. White vestments with blue motifs or trim can be used for Marian feasts or solemnities, but blue vestments in general are not used in the Catholic Church. There are, as mentioned, some exceptions to the rule in rare cases where some Marian shrines or even countries have been allowed to have blue vestments for the commemoration of certain Marian feasts.
Some of our Protestant brothers and sisters do use blue as a liturgical color, especially during Advent to draw a greater distinction from Lent and to downplay the penitential nature of the season. In the Catholic Church, though, we retain the use of purple/violet vestments during Advent to remind us of the need to empty and prepare ourselves to be more fully drawn into the joyful anticipation of the coming of Christ.
Johnson is divine worship director for the Diocese of Green Bay.