Liturgy: Rose-Colored Vestments on Gaudete Sunday
ROME, DEC. 8, 2004 (Zenit) – Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I have always observed that the priest wore a rose or pink vestment on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Last year, around this time, our pastor informed us that such a practice was abandoned and, as such, there were no longer any pink vestments nor pink candles during Advent (and that there was a move away from considering Advent a penitential season). But, lo and behold, a visiting priest wore them on the following Sunday, and, when asked, insisted that the practice was never changed. — RL, Frederick, Maryland
A: Our reader from Maryland (and others) have asked questions regarding the use of rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays. The essential norms dealing with the use of liturgical colors are found in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 346.
“As to the color of sacred vestments, the traditional usage is to be retained: namely,
“a. White is used in the Offices and Masses during the Easter and Christmas seasons; also on celebrations of the Lord other than of his Passion, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Holy Angels, and of Saints who were not Martyrs; on the Solemnities of All Saints (1 November) and of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (24 June); and on the Feasts of Saint John the Evangelist (27 December), of the Chair of Saint Peter (22 February), and of the Conversion of Saint Paul (25 January).
“b. Red is used on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and on Good Friday, on Pentecost Sunday, on celebrations of the Lord’s Passion, on the feasts of the Apostles and Evangelists, and on celebrations of Martyr Saints.
“c. Green is used in the Offices and Masses of Ordinary Time.
“d. Violet or purple is used in Advent and of Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the Dead (cf. below).
“e. Besides violet, white or black vestments may be worn at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America.
“f. Rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
“g. 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.
“h. Gold or silver colored vestments may be worn on more solemn occasions in the dioceses of the United States of America.”
To this we may add the observation of the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” Nos. 121 and 127.
[121.] “The purpose of a variety of color of the sacred vestments is to give effective expression even outwardly to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and to a sense of Christian life’s passage through the course of the liturgical year.” On the other hand, the variety of offices in the celebration of the Eucharist is shown outwardly by the diversity of sacred vestments. In fact, these “sacred vestments should also contribute to the beauty of the sacred action itself.”
[127.] “A special faculty is given in the liturgical books for using sacred vestments that are festive or more noble on more solemn occasions, even if they are not of the color of the day. However, this faculty, which is specifically intended in reference to vestments made many years ago, with a view to preserving the Church’s patrimony, is improperly extended to innovations by which forms and colors are adopted according to the inclination of private individuals, with disregard for traditional practice, while the real sense of this norm is lost to the detriment of the tradition. On the occasion of a feastday, sacred vestments of a gold or silver color can be substituted as appropriate for others of various colors, but not for purple or black.”
From all this it is clear that the custom of using rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays is to be maintained whenever possible.
If a parish lacks rose vestments then the usual violet is used.
The names Gaudete and Laetare comes from the traditional entrance antiphon, or introit, sung at these Masses.
Both terms may be broadly translated as “rejoice” or “delight” and refer to the importance of the theme of Christian joy, even in the midst of a penitential season, which is reflected in the formulas and readings of both these Masses.
With respect to liturgical colors, a bishops’ conference, above all in mission territories, may seek the Holy See’s approval to adopt other colors if the symbolism of the traditional colors would be misunderstood.
In some Asian countries, for example, white is the traditional color of mourning and
does not have the festive connotations prevalent in Western society. In such cases the bishops may propose the traditional festive colors of the culture.
While blue is not an official liturgical color, some countries, such as Spain, and some Marian shrines have the privilege of using blue-colored vestments on Marian feasts such as the Immaculate Conception. These are vestments made of blue-colored fabric and not just white or silver vestments with blue trimmings or blue Marian motifs, which may be used everywhere.
Historically it appears that all sacred vestments were white until about the seventh century. Around the time of Pope Innocent III (died 1216) we had four principal colors (red, white, black and green) and three secondary colors (yellow, rose and purple). But a common criterion for the use of the various colors is not found until around 1550, when the present usage became standard.
As “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” No. 121, says above, the purpose of using different colors is to express the specific character of the various mysteries. The use of the diverse colors is both pedagogical and symbolic of the various liturgical feasts and seasons.
Thus, white, the symbol of light and purity, and gold and silver are festive colors. Red expresses both the fire of the Holy Spirit and the blood of the Passion and of martyrdom. Green is the symbolic color of hope and serenity.
Violet, recalling somberness and penance, has also largely replaced black for funerals although this latter color may still be used. Rose, which has never enjoyed frequent use, serves as a reminder, by using an unusual color, that we are halfway through a penitential season.