Sarum Blue: The Great Untruth

by J. Barrington Bates

Whenever I engage in this conversation, it goes something like this: Advent and Lent are very different seasons. Lent is penitential; Advent is not. Therefore, the liturgical colors should be different.

Then, my conversational partner inevitably goes on to assert we should use violet for Lent, because it is penitential, and blue for Advent, following the custom of medieval Salisbury. (One recent cyber conversation even included this: “cf. any source on the Sarum rite. [Blue] has the advantage of being Anglican whereas purple was brought into use by people copying Rome.”)

Now, here’s my opinion on those assertions:

Advent and Lent are very different seasons Agreed
Lent is penitential Perhaps
Advent is not penitential Questionable
The liturgical colors should be different Not a bad idea

The first and most difficult concern is one of stewardship. In an era when many churches are strapped financially and when parishes are—for the most part—only peripherally involved in missional activities such as serving the poor, does it make sense to purchase another expensive set of vestments to differentiate seasons that are always separated by several months of time? The answer is obvious: no.

Assuming, however, that one wants to proceed with such an endeavor, the questions then becomes: What is a good way to differentiate Advent and Lent by color?

To answer this question, let’s look at some actual evidence (and not oft-repeated cocktail-party patter or faint remembrances of some long-deceased seminary professor). Some historians suggest that white was the only liturgical color in use up to at least the fourth century. (Early-church geeks: take notice!) Evidence of any significant correlation between seasons, feasts, and fasts of the church’s year and the colors employed can be found beginning only in the twelfth century—and this was hardly universal, even by the time of the Reformation. One nineteenth-century author recounts that in his day,

it is now customary to mark the different seasons of the Ecclesiastical year … by using various coloured altar coverings and other hangings. In some cases this is extended also to the stole.

—indicating that the use of colors was, at least in some Anglican churches, still considered innovative only about 135 years ago!

Color sequences that include mixtures (blue and white, or half blue and half yellow) and references to seemingly exotic colors (including “tawney,” orange, brown, “popinjay-colour,” “crane-colour,” and “horseflesh-colour”) abound in medieval manuscripts. And colors also abounded: one ninth-century Irish treatise refers to no fewer than eight different colors for the chasuble: yellow, blue, white, green, brown, red, black, and purple.

As for Salisbury, there are two significant periods for which a liturgical rule book—or consuetudinary—still exists, one from the twelfth century and one from the fourteenth. Medieval inventories of Salisbury cathedral mention vestments of numerous colors, including red, white, yellow, black, violet, purple, blue, green, red-and-white, blue-and-black, purple-and-black, and red-and-green. It appears that the most precious vestments were worn on the most solemn occasions, irrespective of color, at Salisbury, and that the specific color sequence appears to be local, informal, and loosely defined, at best.

Further, we can deduce from recent evidence in the Church of England that the terms violet and purple are interchangeable—otherwise the church would have mandated that all churches replace the violet authorized in 1980 with the purple of 2000! (Personally, I prefer the term violet to purple, to avoid confusion with “episcopal purple,” the fuchsia color that the vestment makers now often call “red-purple.”) But can this notion of interchangeability also extend to medieval blue and purple? At least two scholars think so, and others suggest some latitude in color sequences—since whether you got blue or violet depended on factors such as temperature, alkalinity, and the species of snail used in dyeing.

Some have suggested that violet symbolizes repentance, and should therefore be generally used on occasions of “supplication or humiliation.” In this sense, violet seems hardly appropriate for a Lenten season of baptismal preparation. Violet also enjoys some allusions to royalty, as it continues an expensive and difficult process to dye cloth this color. In this regard, does not violet, therefore, naturally attach itself to the eschatological—proclaiming the return of Christ in glorious majesty, a primary theme of Advent?

The use of Sarum was certainly was not the single standard of thirteenth-century England—as there appeared to be no standard at all. In Westminster Abbey at this time the color for Advent was “definitely ordered to be white,” while Wells Cathedral used blue, Exeter violet, and Pleshy College red. What makes thirteenth-century Salisbury so special? And can we accurately ascribe the color blue in Advent to the use of Sarum? Obviously, no. Taking medieval England as a whole, there is more evidence for veiling and the use of a Lenten array than for use of blue, violet, or any other color particular to any season. The use of plain or even “rough” white linen, often embroidered with crosses or other symbols, may have been more nearly universal than the use of any color scheme for Lent.

In sum, we are living in a time when the strict sequences of colors laid out in such a text as Ritual Notes appears to be breaking down. Some of the newer ideas—include the use of blue for Advent—appear to derive from erroneous assumptions or scholarship about the past that is more creative than comprehensive. If we really wish to differentiate the seasons of Advent and Lent by using different colors for each of them, historical precedent would clearly indicate some plain or unbleached white for Lent and violet for Advent.


This blog posting as adapted from Am I Blue? Some Historical Evidence for Liturgical Colors, which appeared in Studia Liturgica (33:1, 2003). Full citations may be found there. The author is an Anglican priest and liturgical scholar, currently serving a parish of the Episcopal Church in Montclair, New Jersey. He welcomes comments, suggestions, corrections, and other banter.







48 responses to “Sarum Blue: The Great Untruth”

  1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    I’m inclined to agree with the opinions given on the chart. I’m disinclined to be dogmatic in my approach in parishes. My pastor has requested, long term, two greens, two whites, and two violets. We have funding sources to cover these requests who are also generous with the needy, so I’m likewise disinclined to preach to people their money is better off spent where they might be putting some direct contact with the poor in their offering of time.

    Overlooked in all of this is that clergy vestments are not the only opportunities for coloring a nave. Some creativity in lighting might also be well-considered. Physical decorations, music, and Scripture also help make the seasons distinct.

  2. Roger Petrich Avatar

    Somewhere in my fuzzy memory I recall reading that the current 5 color scheme: Purple/Green/Red/White/Black stems from the 1570 Trenten reforms. And I can readily assume that great changes have been made in the chemistry of fabric dyes, as well as fabric fibers since then. I like that the colors “change with the seasons” – beyond that I can accept a good deal of diversity.

    1. Canon John Crean Avatar
      Canon John Crean

      I think the proper term is Tridentine not Trenten.

  3. Mark Miller Avatar
    Mark Miller

    My sense of the Orthodox, byzantine usage is– fundamentally in the “rubrics” it rederes to “bright vestments” and “dark vestments,”
    the change in them coming especially at the moment Lent begins,and n the Vesperal Liturgy on Holy Saturday.

    I think in Russia, at least, Green is used Palm Sunday because of the palms; and Pentecost, because in Russia they decorate the churches and carry new birch leaves and flowers on that day; White is rarer but important: Baptismal and indeed funerals, Transfiguration, Eves of Christmas and Epiphany, etc; and a gold or gold decorated white is the main, default color throughout the year.

  4. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    It is worth recalling that the liturgical colour for Advent was white as late as the 11th century. The subsequent transformation into a violet penitential season, parallel to Lent, could never have happened if the adult initiation rites had not died out by then. It seems clearly to have been a mistake. In Advent, we are not and should not be asking the catechumens and community to do penance in the run-up to the celebration of the mysteries of the Incarnation.

    Then one can adduce the fact that, although Advent has no Gloria (reminiscent of the time when the Gloria only occurred once a year, at Christmas), it has an Alleluia and Verse. This points clearly to a non-penitential origin for the season.

    In my view Advent is not and should not be a penitential season but a season of expectancy, with a certain urgency about it. “We wait in joyful hope”, as the former embolism text had it. Whether this is sufficient to warrant a liturgical colour different from Lent is another question altogether.

    The problem with blue is that it evokes Mary, and the season is not Marian except (in the current lectionary) on the 4th Sunday. I would be interested to know if the Sarum blue use derives from devotion to the BVM, perhaps characterising it as a “pregnant” rather than a penitential season.

  5. Adam Wood Avatar

    There are also various shades of blue, some feeling more or less appropriate (at least, to me). The Episcopal parish I work for has a set of cornflower blue vestments (a color I have always called “Lutheran Blue,” for reasons I can’t remember) which it uses during Advent, and which I find terribly inappropriate, lacking all gravitas and expectancy.

    Were I the POPE OF COLOR, I would mandate a deeply bluish purple for Advent and redder one for Lent. But that’s just me.

    Another thing to remember (and relevant to Orthodox usage) is that even our definitions and conceptions of color itself have changed drastically over the last couple millenia. Purple, blue, black, and dark red were, at various times and in various cultures, considered to be essentially the same color.

    1. Rob Stoltz Avatar
      Rob Stoltz

      @Adam Wood – comment #5:

      Well, I wouldn’t expect to see the Roman Missal make a change in color scheme! But, I work in an Episcopal Church, and the Advent vestments are Lady Blue. I think the blue that was actually intended for Advent is the deep, dark navy blue. Vestments of this color were worn at Westminster Abbey for the funeral of Princess Diana. There were many comments about the black vestments, which is what they looked like on TV. But the Abbey and the Palace were quick to point out that they were blue. I wouldn’t feel slighted by rich Navy Blue the way I do with the Royal (or Lutheran) Blue.

      1. Brian Palmer Avatar
        Brian Palmer

        @Rob Stoltz – comment #7:

        In the Anglican parish of my youth (decidedly Low Church) the rector wore a black tippet or scarf over his surplice throughout the year. No colored vestments period for offices or the eucharist. The altar and pulpit were covered in a dark burgundy velvet with gold threaded symbols which didn’t change until Christmas or Easter.

        I’ve noticed some Oriental Orthodox churches have preserved the early practice of the priest wearing white for Sundays . The white vestments appear to be blended with gold thread and maybe a couple of other colors. The priest and the deacon wear white shoes to match. Common in Rome too until the 10th century.

        Maybe, the Church should go back to white, silver, and gold for Sundays outside Lent and Advent. With any dark or subdued color to be worn for those seasons. The color ferias or weekdays outside Lent and Advent could be any color.

        Red and violet together or oxblood and black for Good Friday (also Sarum I think) is rich in symbolism . With Holy Saturday having a dramatic change from the subdued red/purple/blue to white and gold.

        The celebrant could make his appearance after the Easter vigil in glimmering gold and silver . This brings to mind the old television show of the 50s where the late actress, Loretta Young, made her dramatic entrance to introduce the evening’s story. She came bursting through the double doors wearing this rich, flowing white gown.
        The old liturgical rubrics had a way of dramatizing the symbolism by having this startling change of colors from a season of repentance and mourning to one of joy by having the clergy make their entrance from the sacristy arrayed in white and/or gold. Resurrection and joy replacing expectation and mourning.

  6. Adam Wood Avatar

    POPE OF COLOR is not a specifically Roman office.

    1. Gordon E. Trruitt Avatar

      @Adam Wood – comment #8:
      . . . yet.

      1. Adam Wood Avatar

        @Gordon E. Trruitt – comment #19:
        Notably, there are NO SPECIFIC RULES against a woman being named POPE OF COLOR. Which means Francis is definitely considering appointing a woman to that position, which totally exists, because the Vatican has never explicitly denied its existence.

  7. Andrew Wright Avatar

    Thanks Barrie, for giving a succinct, shareable write up on this. I find myself tripping over “sarum blue” comments more than often this year for some reason and I’ll just send them to you.

    The symbolism of color changes with the ages, in church and culture both, so it’s wise to have a light hand with these things. Perhaps the day will come when we have our digital fabrics and one set of vestments can be programmed with one of any number of colors . . .

  8. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    There was a move back in the late 70’s and early 80’s to differentiate Advent from Lent by adopting blue vestments for Advent. Cardinal Bernardin was among those who adopted this practice. All the vestment makers featured them for quite some time and I purchased a beautiful one from Stadelmaier. When the RTR folks came into the ascendancy, I switched to a magnificent blue/purple chasuble from Arte Grosse. At the same time I acquired from the same source the only rose colored vestment that I’ve ever worn. I still wear the blue chasuble on Marian Feasts. BTW, all of December could be considered Marian in character as we wait in joyful hope for the second coming and the annual commemoration of the incarnation.

  9. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
    Jordan Zarembo

    Each parish should have at least one full vestment set in requiem black. If that is not possible or desirable there should be a violet set trimmed in black and with a black cross or symbolism (e.g. chi-rho).

    The requiem lies at the crossroads of the unknown. It is not a time of expectation that the deceased has already received the beatific vision. Black signifies the inability of human beings to discern the eschatological fate of the dead even if the faithful know that life continues eternally through a particular judgment. This is why I find the use of white vestments in cultures where white is not a traditional color of mourning to be somewhat dubious. I wonder if this new custom of spurning black for white arose because people were depressed by requiem colors (for similar reasons, I suspect the dies irae was deleted during the reforms.) And yet, the dies irae is the sung expression of the unfathomable and incomprehensibility of Christian death which envelops the entire funeral liturgy. Perhaps we shouldn’t have told David and the Sibyl to take a hike after all.

    The tendency towards therapeuticization and sentimentalization in the Catholic funeral of recent years strikes me as a fear of the human turn towards the funeral’s existential import. A return to violet or black vestments is not a panacea or perhaps desirable in every case, but at least a consideration of penitential colors might introduce greater philosophical and theological resolution into a ritual which now often descends into pathos.

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #11:
      With perhaps six funerals a year, I wouldn’t be supportive of black vestments for my community. But I do think that a white vestment trimmed in violet and black is a better choice for the modern sensibilities in the US.

      The end of black was more likely a pragmatic choice of pastors, plus the association with the traditional Latin Mass of the 70’s, which was more an expression of schism and rebellion. An Easter white vestment easily did double duty. And a thrifty pastor saved a buck or two.

      1. Adrian Johnson Avatar
        Adrian Johnson

        My family specifically donated a set of black vestments (AND a black pall for the coffin) to our parish with the understanding that it would be used for our funerals, and for any others of the congregation who requested it.

        The donation was as follows: husband/father donated the chasuble. wife/mother donated the stole. The Family cat donated the maniple. 🙂 The children donated burse and chalice veil, and the entire family donated the Pall. We got a good internet deal on the economical but handsome set of vestments from India.

    2. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @Jordan Zarembo – comment #11:

      If I understand it correctly, white is the colour of resurrection, of hope in the afterlife, while black is the colour of despair, of emptiness. This, I think, is why we have moved away from the dread of the Sibyl to faith in new life in Christ.

      I think other commentators are right in saying that full black is now associated with the EF and even with schismatic tendencies — another reason for eschewing it.

      (Of course in the Orient it’s exactly the other way round: they use black where we would use white, and vice versa. Funny thing, culture.)

      1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
        Jordan Zarembo

        @Paul Inwood – comment #17:

        Paul: If I understand it correctly, white is the colour of resurrection, of hope in the afterlife, while black is the colour of despair, of emptiness. This, I think, is why we have moved away from the dread of the Sibyl to faith in new life in Christ.

        I agree that the funeral rites reflect the hope of resurrection. This hope of resurrection must be accompanied by a penitential spirit, however. Hope and penitence are complimentary, even symbiotic. The cultivation of penitential thought and action does not necessarily imply joining up with mendicant flagellants, however. Rather, even a feeling of doubt, of a cold uncertainty about belief and faith, is self-sacrificial as this doubt, when given hope, allows us to struggle towards charity.

        I have yet to hear a funeral homilist make these points. Do we not find ourselves confused or unsettled when we mourn? Perhaps this confusion is a pathway towards s hopeful self-denial, physical or intellectual.

      2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        @Jordan Zarembo – comment #18:
        The funeral homilists I hear preach the Scriptures. Where appropriate, I don’t think it’s wrong to draw lines of faith into the lives and experiences of the deceased and the mourners.

        That said, I find eulogies cringeworthy. The liturgy is best served by close companionship with Christ through the Lectionary and the prayers for the rites. I think the Dies Irae is a fine text for the end times of November and early Advent, but less appropriate for the Christian funeral, despite its long history there.

  10. Patrick Logsdon Avatar
    Patrick Logsdon

    I remember in Odo Casel, years ago, his explanation that advent vestments were more of a maroon/burgundy shade of purple.
    this was the color in antiquity that was associated with the royalty and the king. this goes with the advent emphasis of hope in the coming parousia of the Lord and is very different from the more penitential purple of advent.

  11. Adam Wood Avatar

    Also, is it just me, or does “Sarum” seems like a sort of Anglo-Catholic code word for “something oldish that I like.”

  12. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    The Sarum blue thing of our day is kinda like modern Wicca: a modern attempt at reconstructing something ahistorically.

    The rationalization of blue for Advent as associated with royalty is particularly anachronistic: that association is relatively modern. Purple was associated with royalty in western Antiquity because of the costliness of the dye.

    Any natural dye with a reddish cast is not very stable, and prone to discolor over time. Black was also, oddly, a somewhat difficult “color” to obtain in pure form, and very dark blues and violets were used to create that impression. My understanding is that this is how very dark blue and very dark violet became associated as a penitential color in western Christianity.

    When I was growing up in the 1960s, the churches in my area tended to use a medium somewhat reddish violet for Advent and a dark bluish violet for Lent, and I know others who witnessed that pattern elsewhere.

    Advent has a penitential dimension, as does Lent; “penitential” is not a univalent term, though. The penitential dimension of Advent has more of an eschatological flavor than that of Lent. It is joined to hopeful expectation. (I would suggest that the modern use of violet for funeral vestments can gain from being tied to the Advent usage of violet vestments. That’s just a suggestion, not an imperative.)

    That said, there is nothing in the Roman ritual books indicating any *need* for the violets of the two seasons to be different. That’s a confected need. And I question those who would exaggerate a not unworthy desire on this score into an imperative. Funny how quickly Catholics can fall back into bad habits like that even while trying “reform” things.

  13. John Kohanski Avatar
    John Kohanski

    Here’s a take on Sarum blue from an Episcopal priest.

  14. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

    I’ve noticed a few ecclesiastical supply houses advertising “Serum blue.”

    1. Robert Addington Avatar
      Robert Addington

      Wear Serum blue
      to fight the flu.

  15. Ann Olivier Avatar
    Ann Olivier

    Here in New Orleans white was traditional for children’s funerals. The explanation was that the little ones were innocent and surely in Heaven.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Ann Olivier – comment #24:
      For infants (children below the age of reason), there was no Requiem Mass, either. The funeral was a different ritual.

      1. RP Burke Avatar
        RP Burke

        @Karl Liam Saur – comment #25:
        It was called “The Mass of the Angels,” and we were once trooped out of the school to attend one such when a first-grader died in an auto accident.

      2. Adrian Johnson Avatar
        Adrian Johnson

        For baptised infants it was the Missa de Angelus with white vestments.

  16. Louis Chan Avatar
    Louis Chan

    With the eyes of faith, black is neither a symbol of despair nor emptiness, but of grief and mourning. The fact that Mother Church in her wisdom, from the earliest ages, has prescribed black as the liturgical colour shows her profound understanding of the human heart. Echoing the beatitude, blessed are those who mourn, the Church accompanies her sons and daughters in their grief and sorrow, just as Jesus wept at the passing of Lazarus. To grieve and to mourn does not deny the hope of the resurrection, but recognise our humanity.

    To reject black vestments because they are somehow schismatic is to surrender to the ideological manipulation of the liturgy and deprive the People of God of their full liturgical patrimony. Besides, in many parts of continental Europe, especially Germany, black vestments are used without any ideological baggage. This aversion to black vestments seems to be an anglo-american peculiarity. Not long ago, on a visit to the cathedral treasury at Liverpool, black vestments were displayed as museum pieces, with a label stating that the use of black as a liturgical colour had been abolished after the council, which simply isn’t true, as learned readers of this blog know.

    Recently I attended a (Chinese) Catholic funeral in Hong Kong. The priest celebrated the requiem in violet vestments, facing the open casket, around which stood the family draped in mourning attire of black gauze. White may be the traditional mourning colour in traditional China, but it has given way to black in new China.

  17. Fr. Jack Feehily Avatar
    Fr. Jack Feehily

    Prior to the changes in the liturgy, priests wore black vestments on every day that was not a feast or solemnity. Why should black be associated with the death of a Christian? Black represents the absence of light, but in Christ there is no darkness. When we have reason to believe that someone died in God’s mercy, we celebrate the Mass of Christian burial. This Mass–like all Masses–celebrates the triumph of Christ o’er the grave, why not white or gold vestments. Do we not pray “may the angels lead you into paradise, may the martyrs come to welcome you.” I have once or twice donned purple vestments in the case of people who committed suicide to reflect the penitential character of the occasion. I don’t even know why clergy wear black suits and cassocks for that matter.

    1. Adrian Johnson Avatar
      Adrian Johnson

      The reason that black vestments were “default” on weekdays in the parish where I grew up was that there were so many requests for Masses for the souls of departed family members of parishioners. People believed in Purgatory a lot more then. The same dynamic was probably going on your your parish.

  18. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
    Karl Liam Saur

    Fr Jack

    Can you perhaps use your imagination to understand why black vestments were used? Even I can do that. I don’t think the reasoning behind it is *irrational* or *unreasonable*. I may not find it *persuasive* but there are many arguments that are not as persuasive as others but that are not thereby rendered irrational or unreasonable. The Church has clearly allowed for the continued use of black vestments, in addition to violet or white. There are a not tiny amount of Catholics who find the use of white vestments not particularly consoling or expressive of eschatological hope, and while some of them may have problems with accepting the confounding new creation already begun in the Paschal Mystery, I doubt that the issue for all or even a majority of them. The Church, in her pastoral wisdom, does not insist rigidly in this matter. I, as a progressive, find that delightfully progressive.

    I think violet is a particularly resonant option if we associate with the eschatological hope to which its use is linked in the Advent season.

  19. Brian Duffy Avatar
    Brian Duffy

    Black is beautiful!

  20. Euan Jones Avatar
    Euan Jones

    Fr. Feehily: Yes, in paradisum deducant te angeli – but please note that modality! Entrance into paradise is not certain, and the Mass is to pray that the deceased may obtain heaven, and avoid the fires of hell.

    The main problem with the argument against black vestments is that it is inherently clerical: it’s all about symbolism and ignores that people may be upset and/or in mourning at a funeral (!), and, indeed, that this is perfectly natural.

    Some of us ordinary lay people don’t want to be fobbed off with platitudes when one of our relatives has died. For myself, I’ll take black, and the dies irae, too. They’re honest, at least.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      @Euan Jones – comment #31:

      Euan: The main problem with the argument against black vestments is that it is inherently clerical: it’s all about symbolism and ignores that people may be upset and/or in mourning at a funeral (!), and, indeed, that this is perfectly natural.

      While I agree with your overall position, there is a consideration which have helped me better understand the shift away from an aestheticized liturgical mourning in the reformed funeral Mass. The first is that many persons in developed countries now live to an unprecedented old age. Vaccination has greatly reduced the once potent threats of influenza and pneumonia; conscientious sanitation has nearly eliminated diseases such as cholera. People in developed countries today do not encounter death on a regular or even daily basis, as was once very common. Explicit and unabashedly morbid statements of the eschatological import of Christian death, such as the dies irae, do not effectively convey meaning to people who have not experienced an outbreak of plague once or twice in their lives.

      While I have sharply criticized the “therapeutization” of Christian death in today’s funeral liturgy, this position must be countered by the very plausible position that people simply cannot mourn as the Tridentine requiem and its constituent parts demand. Sentimentality has taken the place of a graphic mourning because few know of the latter.

  21. James Kabala Avatar
    James Kabala

    Wouldn’t the abolition of purple vestments for Lent break with the traditions of the Advent wreath? Probably more people are familiar with that tradition than actually notice what color the priest is wearing.

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      @James Kabala – comment #33:

      No, not at all. Cf. this extract from an article I wrote in 1993:

      Like many seasonal and other images (e.g. Christmas trees), the Advent wreath has only very recently been found in our churches.

      Its north European pagan origins are related to the winter solstice: the round shape symbolises the sun, whose light was waning at this time of year. Around the wreath prayers would be said, that the sun might be reborn after the shortest day and longest night.

      In its Christianised form, it originated in the homes of German Protestants in the 16th century. For many years it was a domestic image that was not used in church. Only after World War II did the wreath start to find its way into Roman Catholic churches, and gradually spread across the world. In many places, the wreath is still hung on the front door of the house. Placing it horizontally and adding candles is a much later development. Until very recently, natural white candles were used; other colours date only from the 1960s.

      The following options are specified in the Roman Book of Blessings for the colour of the candles in the wreath:
      (a) three violet and one rose-coloured (for the 3rd Sunday); or
      (b) four violet candles; or
      (c) four white candles.
      However, some churches have four bright red candles, or three red and one white (for the 3rd Sunday).

      Many churches now have the custom of using a fifth candle (normally white, in which case none of the others will be white), symbolising the incarnate Christ, lit late on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. In some churches this fifth candle is lit before or during Midnight Mass and carried in procession to the crib for the blessing of the crib, if the blessing is done at this time, and then carried back and placed in its position in the centre of the wreath or wherever.

      The fact that the colour of the candles used in German Lutheran homes was until recently white is a happy coincidence with the liturgical colour of Advent up to about the 11th century (see my post #4 above).

  22. James Kabala Avatar
    James Kabala

    A sincere wow – I knew the wreath was traditionally more of a home sacramental than a church thing, but I had no idea the colors were of such recent vintage.

    1. Mar Michael Avatar
      Mar Michael

      @James Kabala – comment #34:
      I think candles that were died are of fairly recent origen. Candles only used to come in white, and yellowish,

  23. Jack Wayne Avatar
    Jack Wayne

    I associate black more with mourning. Despair and darkness are feelings one might have when mourning, but that would be true regardless of the color associated with funerals (perhaps, after a century or two, white funeral vestments will pick up these connotations). Even in our more casual society people tend to wear black, grey, or dark colors at funerals.

    Rejecting black because it is associated with the EF is childish, though.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      @Jack Wayne – comment #36:

      “Rejecting black because it is associated with the EF is childish, though.”

      It’s more of a rationalization than a reason.

  24. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    Every day is penitential if one accepts the biblical background of that concept. In Hebrew ‘shubh’ which is often translated as ‘repent’ means to take a new path, or to return to a path from which one had departed. It is something that one does with the feet, not only with the head, as in changing one’s mind, or worse, with the hand, as in beating one’s breast – three times!!!! The Benedictine practice of conversio morum articulates this biblical impulse very well.

    For that reason it is appropriate that at two major times in the church’s year, Advent and Lent, both of which are essentially joyous seasons, this spiritual activity would be underlined and encouraged. Having the same colour for both seasons can reinforce the association. I’m in favour of retaining purple for both.

  25. Sean Whelan Avatar
    Sean Whelan

    Only saw this thread now. I’ve long been a proponent of blue during Advent. We await in joyful hope. Creator of the Stars of Night. John the Baptist sang of his coming. Soon and Very Soon! Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight. (GNLY) It is by his gift that already we rejoice at the mystery of his Nativity, so that he may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in his praise. We abstain from the Gloria not because Advent is penitential, but so it may ring out with greater freshness at Christmas.

    No, Advent is markedly different than Lent. The tone is different in the prayers. In the music. In the environment. It’s high time we allow more varied color in the liturgy. God gave us a palate of beautiful color, and we want to restrict liturgy to four? Perhaps there is some historical precedence. There is also recent innovation on the matter. When the US Bishops addressed it, there response was to keep the status quo “at this time.” We would do well to remember blue IS a liturgical color, but only approved at this time, in a few places. Having ministered in a few parishes that used the midnight blue colorings, I can assure you there is a notable difference in the spirit of the liturgy. Now I’m back in a parish where the interior looks like Grimace from McDonald’s exploded inside – and that joyful feel is less noticeable.

    Yes, blue for Advent!

    1. Adrian Johnson Avatar
      Adrian Johnson

      A big difference in church decoration in the Ordinariate is the use of greenery (only–no flowers) in Advent, — and NO greenery or flowers during Lent — except for some “artistic” church ladies who made dire arrangement of bare twigs and thorns in primitive terra-cotta pots.

  26. Fr. Michael (Wood) Avatar

    I have been celebrating Sarum for a quarter century and I am a liturgist. I have always used murrey for Advent and blue for Lent. Murrey is my understanding of the ancient mentions.

  27. Lorraine Campbell Avatar
    Lorraine Campbell

    Speaking as a fascinated lay person, I tend to prefer different colors for Advent and Lent, as the moods of each season are introspective and penitential, but subtly different. To me, a dark blue evokes a time pregnant with hope, as we await the miracle of God taking human form, a naked, vulnerable, shivering baby. I envision a set of vestments in Thai silk, deep cobalt blue shot with violet, adorned with a silver Bethlehem star, beckoning the faithful to seek him and follow. Lent foreshadows his death at human hands, and is best symbolized with the more somber colors of repentance and grief. In the church I currently attend, we use a dark violet through Lent, switching to oxblood and black on Good Friday. These colors have tremendous emotional resonance, for our congregation, at this time. Perhaps that will change as time, and culture move forward. I do have one question, though. What does the abbreviation EF mean? I read it as “ejection fraction” which doesn’t make sense in this context. Is it eschatological fate? Ecumenical fracture? Ecclesiastical frugality?

    1. Lee Bacchi Avatar
      Lee Bacchi

      @Lorraine Campbell – comment #41:
      EF = Extraordinary Form, the 1962 Missal in Latin, permitted by Benedict XVI

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