Vestment Colors at a Concelebration

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Vestment Colors at a Concelebration

ROME, JULY 3, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Are priests who concelebrate a Mass obliged to where the same color vestment as the main celebrant? Three examples that I have seen lead me to pose this question. In all cases the concelebrants were wearing stoles without chasubles. The first example occurred at a funeral Mass: The main celebrant wore black vestments, the concelebrants wore white stoles, and the pall was also white. The second example also occurred at a funeral Mass: The main celebrant and two concelebrants wore white vestments; the third concelebrant wore a violet stole. The third example occurred on Gaudete Sunday: The main celebrant wore rose vestments; the concelebrant wore a violet stole. What is preferred? What is permitted? — T.N., Arlington, Virginia

A: This theme is covered in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum.

The GIRM states:

"209. In the vesting room or other suitable place, the concelebrants put on the sacred vestments they customarily wear when celebrating Mass individually. Should, however, a good reason arise, (e.g., a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments), concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may omit the chasuble and simply wear the stole over the alb."

This law is further refined in Redemptionis Sacramentum:

"124. A faculty is given in the Roman Missal for the Priest concelebrants at Mass other than the principal concelebrant (who should always put on a chasuble of the prescribed color), for a just reason such as a large number of concelebrants or a lack of vestments, to omit 'the chasuble, using the stole over the alb.' Where a need of this kind can be foreseen, however, provision should be made for it insofar as possible. Out of necessity the concelebrants other than the principal celebrant may even put on white chasubles. For the rest, the norms of the liturgical books are to be observed."

This would indicate that it is preferable for all concelebrating priests to wear a chasuble, even if it is white and not the color of the day.

If sufficient white chasubles are not available, then I would say that the next preference would be for the concelebrants to wear stoles corresponding to the color of the day. If even this is not possible, then white stoles may also be used.

Although the norms mention only the principal celebrant having to wear the color of the day, I believe that a well-ordered combination of legitimate colors by several concelebrants falls within the law.

For example, I participated in a recent ordination in St. Peter's Basilica in which red was the color of the day. Given that there were more than 120 concelebrants, even the sacristy of the venerable papal basilica found it hard to rise to the occasion. In the end, a mere 80 of us wore red chasubles while the rest wore red stoles.

In order to maintain decorum the fully vested priests were distributed nearest the altar while the others were arranged in another suitable place.

This basic arrangement could also be applied on a smaller scale. For example, if a parish has only four or five matching vestments besides the chasuble of the principal celebrant, these could be used by those priests who will be closest to the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer.

The use of matching vestments for concelebrants, and not just vestments of the same color, is not a strict requirement of law but is clearly preferable for the general order and decorum of the celebration.

If concelebrants are to wear stoles, then I think it best to use a single color. The second example offered by our reader of a funeral where the main celebrant wore white while one concelebrant wore a violet stole would illustrate this case of an unnecessary clash of colors. It would have been more appropriate for all to wear white. The other examples of the use of a single black or rose vestment with the other concelebrants vested in appropriate stoles are in accord with liturgical norms.

Finally, it might be of use to recall the overarching rules for the use of liturgical colors as expressed by the GIRM:

"345. Diversity of color in the sacred vestments has as its purpose to give more effective expression even outwardly whether to the specific character of the mysteries of faith to be celebrated or to a sense of Christian life's passage through the course of the liturgical year.

"346. As regards the color of sacred vestments, traditional usage should be observed, namely:

"a) The color white is used in the Offices and Masses during Easter Time and Christmas Time; on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity; and furthermore on celebrations of the Lord other than of his Passion, celebrations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Holy Angels, and of Saints who were not Martyrs; on the Solemnities of All Saints (November 1) and of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June24 ); and on the Feasts of St. John the Evangelist (December 27), of the Chair of St. Peter (February 22), and of the Conversion of St. Paul (January 25).

"b) The color red is used on Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion and on Friday of Holy Week (Good Friday), on Pentecost Sunday, on celebrations of the Lord's Passion, on the 'birthday' feast days of Apostles and Evangelists, and on celebrations of Martyr Saints.

"c) The color green is used in the Offices and Masses of Ordinary Time.

"d) The color violet or purple is used in Advent and Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the Dead.

"e) Besides the color violet, the colors white or black may be used at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America.

"f) The color 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, festive, that is, more precious, sacred vestments may be used even if not of the color of the day.

"h) The colors gold or silver may be worn on more solemn occasions in the Dioceses of the United States of America.

"347. Ritual Masses are celebrated in their proper color, in white, or in a festive color; Masses for Various Needs, on the other hand, are celebrated in the color proper to the day or the time of year or in violet if they have a penitential character, for example, nos. 31, 33, or 38; Votive Masses are celebrated in the color suited to the Mass itself or even in the color proper to the day or the time of the year."

Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 127, offers an official interpretation of GIRM 346g:

"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 colour 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."

* * *

Follow-up: Vestment Colors at a Concelebration [7-17-2012]

Related to our column on liturgical colors (see July 3) there was a question regarding a change of color. A reader from Oregon asked "whether a priest can add or change the liturgical color assigned for each liturgical season? For example, during Advent instead of purple, the pastor at my parish uses blue as the color of the season. He explained that so as not to confuse Advent with Lent and also in honor of Mary, blue is a more suitable color."

Blue is not one of the normal liturgical colors. Blue vestments may be used, however, as a papal privilege. This privilege has been granted to some Marian shrines and to some countries for major solemnities of the Blessed Virgin. It cannot be used as a substitute for violet.

If a pastor believes that it is a good idea to distinguish Advent from Lent, then he can easily do so by using different shades of violet vestments. There is no need to contravene liturgical laws by incorporating colors not approved for general liturgical use.

Another reader asked: "Why is it that on the feast of the Sacred Heart the Mass vestments are colored white? This always confuses me because votive Masses of the Precious Blood use red-colored vestments."

The reason for the difference is rooted in the history and meaning of both celebrations.
In the present Roman Missal the celebration of the Precious Blood is simply the formula of a votive Mass. In the calendar of the extraordinary form it remains a feast.

This celebration apparently originated in 16th-century Spain. It was introduced into Rome by St. Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837), the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood.

The feast was first granted for this congregation and assigned to the Friday after the 4th Sunday of Lent. Some dioceses around the world, including those of the United States, also adopted the celebration.

It remained a local feast until 1849. In that year due to political disturbances Pope Pius IX had to flee Rome for Gaeta. In his exile he was accompanied by Venerable Giovanni Merlini, superior general of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. This holy priest suggested to the Pope that he make a vow to extend the feast of the Precious Blood to the whole Church if he were to return to Rome. The Holy Father considered that it was not opportune to make such a vow but would gladly extend the feast anyway. That day was Saturday, June 30 and coincidentally the day Rome was freed from the insurgents. For this reason the Pope decreed that the feast would be celebrated every first Sunday of July.

Therefore, in many places the same office was celebrated twice, once in Lent and in July. Later Pope Pius X in an effort to reduce the number of celebrations held on a Sunday fixed the date on July 1. Pius XI raised its liturgical rank in 1933 on the occasion of the 1900th year of Jesus' death, but it was again reduced, in the reform of Pope John XXIII.

In 1969 it was removed from the universal calendar. The reason given was: "because the Most Precious Blood of Christ the Redeemer is already venerated in the solemnities of the Passion, of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But the Mass of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is placed among the votive Masses."

It is logical that red vestments be used since the origin of this feast is more closely tied to Christ's passion. This is logical insofar as his blood is precious because it is the ransom he paid for the redemption of mankind.

The feast of the Sacred Heart, while the passion theme is not absent, is far more centered on the themes of Christ's continuing love for us and it is intimately related to the veneration of the Eucharist. For this reason, and because it is a liturgical solemnity, white vestments are more appropriate.

This difference of accentuation can be seen in the opening prayers of the respective Masses:
"O God, who by the Precious Blood of your Only Begotten Son have redeemed the whole world, preserve in us the work of your mercy, so that, ever honoring the mystery of our salvation, we may merit to obtain its fruits. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son …."

"Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son …."

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