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Liturgy is a language, and so it must have rules

Gaudete Sunday has returned to the mainstream of Catholicism

By on Friday, 16 December 2011

The Pope, last Sunday CNS photo/Paul Haring

The Pope, last Sunday CNS photo/Paul Haring

Gaudete Sunday, which has just passed, is back in the vocabulary of Catholics. When I was a child, the phrase was never mentioned, and I had no idea what rose vestments looked like, or why they should be used. But rose vestments and Gaudete, and of course Laetare, are now things that have returned to the mainstream. Proof of this is provided by two random parish newsletters that I saw recently. They were of the sort that have a prepared text on one side: both mentioned Gaudete, and both had a rose-coloured masthead. Presumably most parishes up and down the country used rose vestments last Sunday, and the parish newsletter publishers have now caught up with this. Likewise all the Advent wreaths that I have seen feature a pink candle, which was never the case once upon a time.

That excellent website The New Liturgical Movement has been advocating the cause of rose vestments for some time, and in a recent article it suggests that over three quarters of parishes now have them, and more importantly, use them.

You might think that the world has more to worry about than the correct use of vestments, and in a sense you might be right. But the use of rose vestments is to be encouraged simply because liturgy is a language, and all languages have grammar and rules, and the use of rose on Laetare and Gaudete Sundays is coherent with liturgical language. To use the “wrong” colours on these days is like making a grammatical mistake: make too many of them, and your language ceases to be a vehicle for shared meaning and comes to express nothing more than what you think, rather than being the universal language of the Church.

Rose has a strong non-verbal message for us. It is a colour that points to a joy to come. It marks the half way point on the penitential journey, and as a cyclist, I can tell you that marking halfway point on arduous journeys is something that is very human and very consoling.

While on the topic of liturgical colour, let us not forget gold, ideal for special occasions, such as major feasts and weddings; and let us not forget black. The liturgy allows the use of black, violet and white for funerals. The New Liturgical Movement has an interesting article on the subject and notes, correctly I think, that black is making a comeback as a liturgical colour.

I personally, when planning a funeral, always offer the family a choice. None have opted for black, I have to say, and there does seem to be an aversion to it in some quarters. But in at least two funerals where I had the choice myself, I wore black, and the use of black received favourable comments. Black is solemn, and there should be a solemnity to a funeral. As for my own funeral, I think I would like black vestments.

What are the views of the faithful on this matter, I wonder?

  • CatholicBlogger

    And let’s not forget that wonderful melody and set of words “Dies Irae, dies illa … ”

  • Anonymous

    I agree with every single word you have just typed. Gaudete and Laetare are important, and I get terribly cross when trendy modern priests carry on wearing violent regardless, or  – which is almost worse – they wear those HORRENDOUS stripy pink and lilac things to “include” both.
    As for funerals – I want black, and being in my thirties will hopefully live long enough to outlast the fad for non-black vestments at funerals.

  • Anonymous

    Some priests really love wearing pink. It does go so well with the lace.

    Fr Lucie-Smith is misleading when he implies that the use of purple on the Third Sunday of Advent or the Fourth Sunday of Lent is in any way “wrong”.

    Purple (or violet) is the proper colour for Advent and Lent. Where there is a custom it is permissable to use rose vestments on Gaudete and Laetare Sunday, but nowhere in the rubrics is there any suggestion whatsoever that it is preferable, or even desirable, to wear rose vestments. It is merely a concession to an earlier, but (I would argue) long outdated, custom. Is it really the best use of funds for parishes where there had been no rose vestments for many years, to spend money on expensive pink vestments that will only be worn twice a year?

  • Anonymous

    “It is merely a concession to an earlier, but (I would argue) long outdated, custom.”

    It is such disgusting attitudes from warped liberals such as yourself undermining the well-founded and important Traditions of the faith which have done so much to damage the Church in this country.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I did not mislead. I put the word wrong in inverted commas, please note.

  • Anonymous

    The clear implication of the third paragraph is that those who use purple vestments on  the third Sunday in Advent or the fourth Sunday in Lent are making a “mistake”, being “incoherent”, not sharing “meaning”, and simply following what they “think” rather than using the important language of the liturgy.

    On the contrary the rubrics state that while rose vestments may be used where they are already customary, purple is the proper lenten and advent colour as part of the liturgical language of the universal church. Therefore it would be wrong for any priest to introduce rose vestments to a parish that had not used them for years.

    Priests should not let a personal preference for pink cause them to ignore the rubrics.

  • guest

    Actually, the GIRM says “The colour rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).”  

    This suggests that the point in time that is important is when the instruction was first issued. From that point in time the priest had a choice whether or not to use rose vestments. He may or may not have availed himself of the option to wear rose.  Priests today equally have that choice if the parish practice immediately prior to rubric being implemented (1970) was to wear rose.  If an earlier priest in a parish discarded rose vestments then he was not following the rubric.  

    In any case, a previous parish priest’s choice regarding the rubric cannot bind a future priest.  No wrong is committed by a priest who buys a rose vestment where none currently exists in the parish, provided the custom immediately prior to the implementation the Missal of Pope Paul VI was to wear rose on the designated Sundays (which would be most if not all parishes in existence at the relevant time).  He is merely exercising his discretion as granted by the GIRM.  

  • guest

    And a further thought – the rubric does not stipulate that the practice has to be confined to a particular parish.  It may be that it is sufficient that the practice existed/exists within a diocese.  

    It may also be that the practice in question may indeed be personal to a priest (many of whom have their own vestments which they take from parish to parish).  

    Parish tradition (i.e. the custom of one priest at one point in time) surely wouldn’t stand in the way of a priest ‘re-introducing’ rose vestments especially when the words of the rubric are phrased in this general way.  

  • Peter

    “Liturgy is a language, and so it must have rules”

    Liturgy is abused.

    In Catholic parishes I have witnessed:

    Lay people giving the homily;
    the priest sitting down while lay persons distribute communion;
    the congregation joining in the doxology;
    the thurifer wearing plain clothes during solemn masses;
    the removal of unpurified vessels from the sanctuary;
    extraordinary ministers of holy communion giving blessings.

    We are told that no-one has the right to improvise with the liturgy because it belongs to the Church and therefore to all the faithful, but it still happens.

  • Anonymous

    What an amusing interpretation of church law. You think that time somehow stands still so that if a law was published in 1970 then when deciding on a situation we should look back to how things were in 1970. So that according to you the “est” in “ubi mos est” does not mean “is”, but “was in 1970″.

    That way of applying law would present some major problems with marriages. A moment’s thought should tell you that your argument is nonsense. Anybody who has ever studied Canon Law would laugh at the very idea. But just in case you might want to cling on to your foolishness the current Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani was published in 2002. 

  • Anonymous

    Very silly. So  the “where” in “where it is the practice”  (or the “ubi” in “ubi mos est”) does not mean a place but a priest. You must be profoundly ignorant of Canon Law to think that.

    Where (or “ubi” in this context) can never mean a person. And it is clearly applying to a place where vestments are worn – namely a church or chapel. Do you think that it means that if the custom existed in one church in a diocese that would mean that it existed in all of them? You might just as well say that as long as one church somewhere on the planet has rose vestments then the practice must also exist in all of them.  

    Fr Lucie-Smith makes it clear in his article that in the past the use of rose vestments was not the practice in most places in this country. Those priests who have introduced them have broken the rules, and now one of them has the nerve to complain that it is the priests who have kept the rules who are wrong. Personally I have no objection to priests dressing up in pink if they want to, even if it does mean breaking the rules. Live and let live. However they should pay for the vestments out of their own money, and then refrain from making false criticisms of those who keep the rules.

  • John485

    Peter – it happens in rather grand places as well. If you watch services from Notre Dame de Paris on KTO you will frequently see a thurifer in a lounge suit

  • Anonymous

    “Parish tradition (i.e. the custom of one priest at one point in time) surely wouldn’t stand in the way of a priest ‘re-introducing’ rose vestments”

    Extraordinary, isn’t it, the idea that the existence at some point of a liberal priest who wanted to do away with “all of that superfluous old nonsense” could be said to prohibit one of his successors from reintroducing the proper, and meaningful, colour? Quite extraordinary.

  • Anonymous

    “extraordinary ministers of holy communion giving blessings”

    One of my chief bugbears.

    Mind you, the general abuse of the restricted provision allowing extraordinary ministers in extraordinary circumstances where there are insufficient clergy and communion would be unreasonably delayed without their use irks me in general. Where they are not needed, they should not be used.

  • sclerotic

    It’s nothing to do with rules. It’s cultural, nothing more. In China the colour of mourning is white.

  • guest

    caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” translated by P. Hadley as “In those
    church’s in which there is charity and love, there (and only in that place)
    does God abide (but if charity and love have ceased at some point, God’s love should no
    longer be able to abide there).” 


    can’t imagine any self-respecting canon lawyer wanting to share ranks with
    someone whose argument in reply commences with “very silly”, nor can
    I imagine with someone who confuses the promulgation of a Constitution (the most authoritative
    class of papal or conciliar document), as in the case of the 1970 Missale
    Romanum, containing as it does the IGRM, with promulgation of a decree by which
    such original publication is updated or amended.  The original publication is the Missal
    of Pope Paul VI.  You will find, if you care to open a 2002 Missale Romanum, or indeed an
    emended 2008 copy, or a 2010 Roman Missal, the original Constitution of Pope
    Paul VI.  Without it the subsequent editions (as indicated by the words editio
    typica terita – that’s the third typical edition of Pope Paul V’s Missal) would
    lack the same supreme force. It is true – and something of which I was
    unaware – that the words “ubi mos est” were added only in 2000 and
    published in 2002.  We must ask what, if anything,
    they add to the meaning of the relevant paragraph of the IGRM.  That is, prior to 2002, rose “may be
    worn on …”, and post 2002 rose “may be worn, where that is the
    practice, on …”


    When, in a code or piece of legislation, general words are used, they
    are to be given a wide, not a restricted, meaning.  There is
    nothing in the context here to suggest the “practice” must be
    confined to individual churches. 


    In any case, there is also absolutely no justification for inserting the
    word “already”, as you seem to want to, and certainly not as applying
    to a given point in time after the promulgation of the document (be
    that 1970, or 2002) in circumstances where wearing rose was historically the
    practice but ceased to be at some point simply because of the fashion of one
    particular priest.  


    And something “is” the practice if that thing is practiced.  If a
    priest decides to wear rose where a previous priest used not to, is he breaking
    the rule?  Or just the first time he wears rose? What about the following time,
    since wearing rose is now [already] the practice at that priest’s church?  What about
    the next parish priest if he continues the practice?  What about church’s which continue to have rose vestments, but they simply have not been worn for a few years? The whole
    of the relevant section of the IGMR is exhorting the use of “traditional
    usage” of vestments, and in respect of rose is permissive (expressed
    affirmatively – rose may be used) rather than restrictively (pink should not be
    used unless …). 


    Now, my interpretation may not be the correct one.  Your
    interpretation may not be either.  But interpretations they are.  I think
    you are being disingenuous in claiming not to care much about whether a priest
    wears rose.  If not, perhaps you should devote your time instead to matters about
    which you are concerned.  

  • Anonymous

    I seem to remember Bill Clinton trying to get out of trouble by arguing about the meaning of the word “is”. In everyday speech and in church law “est” refers to the situation at the present time, not at the time when the law was made. That really ought to be blindingly obvious.

    The Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983 gives as a requirement to be ordained a priest that one has (usually) to be unmarried. Could someone argue that because he was unmarried in 1983 he satisfies that requirement?

  • guest

    Once more, you are not really addressing the issue.  In 1970 rose was not obligatory, but permitted at the discretion of, presumably, the particular priest.  Churches cannot exercise a discretion about whether to use vetsments or not, or retain them or not.  Before 2002 one can say without fear of contradiction that, whether or not rose was the practice in a given parish, a priest could start to wear rose once more without “breaching” the IRGM. 

    Now, in 2011, we have to consider the meaning of the words “where that is the practice”.  We must acknowledget that the words are still used in a very general sense, and still permissive.  There is nothing to suggets that the intenion behind adding these words was to make the use of rose vetsments less prevalent by saying that if, in 2002, a particular church did not use rose vestements, then from that point forward, while the current IRGM is in force, no future parish would be allowed to wear rose vestements in that particular Church.  That’s quite a claim to make on the strength of the words actually used in the IRGM.  It is also at odds with the exhortation that the traditional usage be maintained in respect of liturgical colours. 

    The rule as to marriage to which you allude seems to belong to another realm altogether.