I see purple. Do I have to fast during Advent?

Question

Do I have to fast during Advent like during Lent? Isn’t Advent like Lent? There’s purple used during Lent and Advent.

Answer

 “It’s not purple — it’s violet!” I can still hear my parish priest reminding us of this, with a smile, at the beginning of each Advent and Lent when I was a young man.  (On Gaudete (Advent) and Laetare (Lent) Sundays, he would also remind us, “It’s not pink — it’s rose!” Just like every liturgical color, the color used for Advent and Lent has a symbolic purpose. And, just as a common color can connect the two seasons in our mind, a nuance in “violets” can help us keep the nature of the seasons distinct.

Church law (called the Code of Canon Law) states, “The penitential days and times in the universal church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (n. 1250). Fasting is emphasized during Lent because it is a penitential season. Fasting is not “required” during the season of Lent other than what is described in canon 1251: “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the episcopal conference (a country’s bishops), is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.” Lenten fasting beyond the canonical minimum is encouraged, however, because “The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance…” (n. 1249). Penitential days and seasons are prescribed to foster unity among Catholics in their penance, sacrifice and asceticism.

Advent has a less penitential nature than Lent. Fasting is therefore less emphasized. The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that Advent is a time of “devout and joyful expectation.” During Advent, penance is required only on Fridays, per canon 1251 above. In 1966, the United States bishops’ conference permitted another form of penance to be substituted for abstinence from meat on Fridays outside of Lent.

The color violet symbolizes penitence and mourning. It also symbolizes suffering and pain, sacrifice and preparation. At the same time, it is a color of royalty and symbolizes the sovereignty that Christ must have over our heart, our church and our world. 

Classically, the violet worn in liturgy during Advent is slightly blue in hue, while the violet worn during Lent is slightly red in hue. Lenten violet is called “Roman violet.” Advent violet has a blue hue to remind us of the preparatory and hopeful nature of the season, which is ordered toward the Blessed Virgin Mary bringing Jesus into the world. Lenten violet is slightly red to remind us of the penitential and sacrificial nature of the season, which is ordered toward the bloody red of Good Friday.

Just like the shades of violet worn during their liturgies, Advent and Lent are similar, yet different. If prayed well, however, both seasons help us draw nearer to Jesus in the Mass, the Eucharist and our hearts.

Fr. Sladek is administrator of St. Mark Parish, Redgranite, and Sacred Heart of Jesus, Poy Sippi.