|ROME, 7 DEC. 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
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
"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
"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
[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 feast day, 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
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
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
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.
* * *
Follow-up: Rose-Colored Vestments on Guadete Sunday
Our column on the use of rose-colored vestments (Dec. 7) generated a
broad spectrum of colorful responses.
Some readers asked for a more exact description of these liturgical
colors as some priests appeared to confuse blue with violet and pink
Although aware of the hazardous nature of attempting to describe colors
with words, we will try to satisfy our readers.
Violet ("violaceus") is a hue similar to that of the synonymous flower
and is defined by the Collins dictionary as "any of a group of colors
that vary in saturation but have the same purplish-blue hue. They lie at
one end of the visible spectrum, next to blue"
actually, next to indigo
"approximate wavelength range 445-390 nanometers."
Purple is a similar color and comprises "any of various colors with a
hue lying between red and blue and often highly saturated; a nonspectral
Therefore, while various shades of purple and violet may be legitimately
used, neither purple nor violet is blue, and blue vestments, except for
those countries and religious orders with special privileges mentioned
in our earlier response, have been explicitly forbidden in all of the
color's different shades such as turquoise, azure, etc. (Decrees of the
Sacred Congregation of Rites 2704, 2788).
In seems that some places distinguish between Advent and Lent by varying
the tones of purple and violet used in each season.
While such a distinction is not required by any liturgical law, there is
no norm which would oppose it and the practice may be considered
Rose ("rosaceo") is defined by the dictionary as "a moderate
purplish-red color; purplish pink."
The liturgical color is thus a lightened violet and is darker than the
pale hue usually associated with pink. It is rather a tincture closer to
that of a pale incarnadine or the reddish "Naples yellow" used by
Pink, "any of a group of colors with a reddish hue that are of low to
moderate saturation and can usually reflect or transmit a large amount
of light; a pale reddish tint," is not counted among the liturgical