It won't be a blue Christmas - at least not at the altar
There is a rainbow of liturgical color that we sometimes see at Mass
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Fourth in a series
In the liturgical color wheel, red, green, purple and white stand out. However, there are a few other colors - less frequently used for liturgical celebrations - that complete the rainbow of vestments, secondary altar cloths and church decorations.
A d v e n t
Time of Preparation
Rose -- One such color, only seen twice a year (including this coming Sunday, Dec. 16), is pink. It is actually the color rose, rather than a paler pink. Rose is the liturgical color of rejoicing. This is why it is used on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent). Both Sundays mark the approximate half-way point in their seasons and are meant to encourage us on our journey to Christmas or Easter.
While the origin of the rose color to vestments is unclear, there may a connection to the tradition of the Golden Rose, a gift traditionally sent on Laetare Sunday, starting in the 8th century, by the pope to Catholic kings and queens. (Gold roses are still given by the pope, most recently to Marian shrines.)
Silver and gold -- In the upcoming season of tinsel, gold and silver seem to be everywhere. However, they can be used in the church throughout the year, especially on the most solemn feasts, such as Easter or Christmas.
Silver and gold are precious metals, representing the best we can offer. They also denote royalty. In fact, both have often been used - sometimes with gold or silver thread - to adorn vestments and altar cloths of other colors. (There is even "cloth of gold," woven with thread made of gold.) Some of these vestments were so decorated to the point of the gold or silver dominating the fabric.
Black -- Black, in western cultures, symbolizes death and mourning. Black vestments and altar decorations were used for funeral Masses from the Middle Ages (when specific colors for vestments first developed) until the liturgical reforms of the Mass following the Second Vatican Council. Black vestments are still appropriate for Masses for the dead, though white has become the more commonly used in the West.
Blue -- During Advent, some Christian churches - most notably some of the Episcopalians - have turned to using the color blue during Advent. Some parishes have also used this color - a dark blue, sometimes called sarum blue - for decorations outside the actual liturgical cloths, as a reminder of the Virgin Mother. However, blue vestments are not authorized by the Catholic bishops for use in the United States.
There are exceptions to this rule against blue vestments. First, the rule only addresses Latin rite churches, since many of the Orthodox churches use blue vestments on the feasts of the Holy Theotokos (the Virgin Mary). Second, since the 19th century, special papal permission was given to some dioceses in Spain - and by extension to Mexico and some of the Latin American countries - to use blue vestments on certain Marian feasts, most notably the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Finally, there also are certain exceptions granted to some religious orders with a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, but only on certain Marian feasts.
Silver and gold, black and blue and pink are the unusual liturgical colors of the church. Seldom seen, they nonetheless highlight the reason we use colors in our liturgical celebrations - as symbols that help explain what we are doing. So, whether we are somber over the change of life from this world to the next, or joyous at the approach of the feasts of Christ, these rare colors add dimension to what we profess in faith.
(Sources: The Church Visible; U.S. Bishops Committee on the Liturgy; Principles of Liturgy; The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism; The Catholic Encyclopedia; General Instruction of the Roman Missal)
Next: The use of white