Blue Advent

8 Dec

I admit it. Most days I pay precious little attention to what I wear. As long as it’s clean and presentable–and still fits–I’m satisfied.

Last night, however, I sought out my best blue dress shirt for this morning. After all, it’s a holy day, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and I thought it would be fitting to wear blue to Mass in honor of Our Lady.

All this brought to mind a discussion some time ago about the propriety of blue vestments for the sacred liturgy. In light of that discussion, I think a few points are worth revisiting.

(1) The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), nos. 345-46, in its discussion of liturgical colors, does not make allowance for blue vestments. At this time, blue simply is not a liturgical color.

(2) Liturgical color, given its intimate connection with sacred seasons and mysteries, is a matter of “traditional usage.” This is not something the Church will change easily.

At the same time, it is a matter of liturgical discipline that can be changed by appropriate Church authority, and even now more latitude is given in the celebration of special feast days: “On more solemn days, sacred vestments may be used that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not of the color of the day” (GIRM, no. 346).

(3) When I was in seminary in the 80s, I encountered liturgists who were pushing hard for the use of blue vestments during Advent, instead of (or perhaps as a legitimate alternative to) the traditional purple vestments. One of the main reasons that was advanced was the desire to rid Advent of its penitential character as a “little Lent,” a time of preparation and patient expectation for the arrival of the Messiah.

It is true that Advent isn’t penitential to the same extent as Lent, but proponents of ”blue Advent” seemed to be the same ones who supported a host of other liturgical changes that seemed to minimize, if not undermine, traditional values such as penance, sacrifice, and reverence. This is not the mind of the Church on these matters, and given this dubious theological foundation for a “blue Advent,” one should not expect a change along these lines.

(4) The last time I checked, there were Dioceses in Spain that had permission to wear blue vestments for the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. While blue does not seem appropriate for Advent, I think a case could be made for blue on days/seasons connected to Our Lady, such as Marian feasts, the Christmas season, and even Saturdays during Ordinary Time. That’s because Catholic sensibilities do “connect” blue with Our Lady, just as I did last night. This is seen not only in Catholic art and iconography (e.g., the popular image of Our Lady of Grace), but also in the fact that many religious communities devoted to Our Lady wear blue habits.

(5) Some Catholics are suspicious of any changes or “novelties” in Church practice because of the many unauthorized changes and aberrations that occurred in the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.”  This mindset is understandable, but a reactionary approach that fails to make appropriate distinctions isn’t helpful.

And at the same time, there is the legitimate concern that renegade parishes will just do what they want in violation of Church discipline as a way of pushing for change. In this regard, they might cite examples from recent history, such as altar girls or Communion in the hand. Still, the current Church discipline–whatever it may be at a given point in time–should be followed, and when it isn’t, the faithful have the right to make their concerns known to the appropriate Church authorities, with humility, respect, and charity.

(6) There’s no accounting for taste. A couple years ago I saw a photo of very loud blue vestments that many would find distasteful and distracting even if blue vestments were otherwise permissible. That tacky chasuble isn’t an argument against all blue vestments, but it certainly points to the care that should go into the manufacture and selection of all religious vestments. One thinks of the flaming pink vestments one sometimes sees on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays, instead of a joyful, but more subdued and dignified, rose color.

(7) I have a son in first grade who likes coloring by numbers. Using the liturgical colors provided by the Church is not rocket science, and even my young son can figure out what color vestments the priest should wear. I realize that negotiating with liturgists can be an iffy proposition, but let’s do our best to promote a reverent, commonsense approach to following liturgical norms.

And above all, let’s not let these considerations distract us from the sacred mysteries that are being celebrated in our midst this holy season!

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