About this time of year I start getting questions about advent wreaths.
For example, this came from a a reader today:
Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,
Is it proper to use scented candles for the advent wreath?
Sure… if you want to deal with the smell.
I am much of a scented candles sort of guy, frankly. But often it is hard to find unscented candles in the colors you need.
Those colors are, as everyone ought to know, purple or violet and rose (pink in a pinch). Some people have white or cream candle in the center for Christmas Day.
Those are the colors that should be used and other colors are, well, just plain wrong!
"But Father! But Father!", more than a few of you might be saying. "You are so judgmental! Wrong? How can you say that! At my parish there is always an advent wreath and the colors are blue and white! And if they do it that way it must be right!"
Blue… yah… liturgical blue. This comes up every year as well.
Remember, folks, that the colors of the candles on the Advent wreath have a purpose.
If people ask you, "Why are there three purple candles and one pink on an Advent wreath?" you can give them the straight and correct answer.
Despite the claim of some Lutherans that they developed the Advent wreath, the answer I give is, "those are the colors a Catholic priest wears when saying Mass on those Sundays."
But why pink or properly rose on the third Sunday of Advent?
Easy: rose is the color used on the fourth Sunday of Lent!
In Rome for centuries now there are celebrations of Mass during the great seasons of Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas at "station" churches. In Lent, the fourth Sunday is called "Laetare" (which means in Latin pretty much what "Gaudete" means…"rejoice!"). The station Mass for "Laetare" Sunday was at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem not far from the Lateran Basilica (the Pope’s cathedral in Rome).
It was the custom on this day, stretching perhaps back to the time of Pope St. Gregory III (740), for the Pope to bless special roses made of gold that were to be sent to the Catholic kings, queens and notables. Thus it was called Dominica de rosa…. Sunday of the Rose.
It doesn’t take much imagination to develop rose vestments from this custom.
Soon the practice of using rose (the technical term for the color to be used is rosacea… from the Latin adjective for "made of roses") spread from that basilica to the rest of the City. As a Roman practice it became part and parcel of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pius V through the world.
The custom is coming back into vogue again, thanks be to God. Once again you see rose vestments in church goods catalogues and shops.
Perhaps your parish needs them? Many churches threw them in the dumpster after Vatican II, along with all their black, all maniples and burses of all colors, and anything that wasn’t polyester, wasn’t finger-painted, and didn’t drape.
But I digress…
Because of the parallel between Advent’s "Gaudete" and "Laetare" of Lent, the use of rose vestments spread to "Gaudete" as well. So now there are two days of the year when rose is permitted.
It is not obligatory to use rose on Gaudete or Laetare, but it is a beautiful custom.
Now for the whole blue thing.
Blue is not an approved liturgical color for Advent or any other time.
Sorry, I am not making this up.
Not that I have anything against blue, of course. It is simply liturgically illegal right now.
When the Holy See approves the use of blue I will happily put it on!
Instead of agitating for women priests, I wish the agitators would agitate for blue vestments… without breaking the law, of course.
Imagine! Traditional priests, deacons and subdeacons putting on blue maniples, blue dalmatics and tunics, covering chalices with blue veils and blue burses, hiding patens under blue humeral veils. I believe some traditional groups use blue anyway, even now, on the rather thin excuse, IMO, that in Spain and Spanish territories there was, a zillion years ago, a special indult, etc. etc. I find that argument a little weak. But… I guess there are far more serious things to worry about.
This whole liturgical blue issue always brings to my ming a parody song made years ago by one of our participants here, the Timothy the Parodist, now the official WDTPRS parody songwriter.
Sing this to the tune of O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
O come, o come liturgical blue;
out with the old, and in with the new.
Let’s banish purple vestments from here,
the color blue is very HOT this year.
Gaudy, gaudy, gaudy chasubles,
in baby, navy, powderpuff and teal.
Since Advent is the Blessed Virgin’s time,
we’ll wear blue, though it’s a canonic crime,
and in the third week, we’ll wear white.
Although it’s wrong, we’ll say that it’s alright.
Around the wreath we’ll place blue candlelight,
and in one corner, we will place one white.
We’ll drape blue over our communion rail,
and use blue burses with blue chalice veils.