QUAERITUR: Advent wreaths and my annual rant on BLUE vestments

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.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, Classic Posts, Parody Songs. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Fr J says:

    Fr Z… not that it’s an excuse to contradict the present custom of Holy Church… but in the Sarum Use, blue was a liturgical colour also, particularly of Advent I seem to remember… But you are QUITE RIGHT about NOT using blue meanwhile until the Holy See resurrects the custom! But I wonder if celebrating the Sarum Use one might be permitted…?!

  2. Gregor says:

    Here in Germany, where the advent wreath comes from, red candles are used. The Holy Father, being German, also has them.

  3. Nick says:

    In the Eastern Rites — Orthodox and Orthodox in communion with Rome — blue vestments signify Mary and are used on any of her feast days.

  4. Emilio III says:

    The Spanish liturgical calendar lists blue as an alternate color for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and for that date only. Not for Advent in general.

  5. Gregor: That’s interesting!

  6. Emilio: When was blue approved for use in the Roman Rite?

  7. Nathan says:

    Father Zuhlsdorf is right. I remember back in those “liturgically enlightened” days of the 80s and 90s, more than one parish (in the military we moved quite a bit) starting to use the blue vestments during Advent because preparing for the Nativity really wasn’t supposed to be penitential….

    To paraphrase Martin Mosebach, what appeared to be the all-too-common lay response was to get up, look at the blue vestments and hear that explanation, then conclude, “Well, penance and penitence must not be all that important, after all.”

    In Christ,

  8. Emilio III says:

    Fr Z, I’m not sure where the approval came from. On the Spanish Bishop’s Conference website (<a href=”http://www.conferenciaepiscopal.es” http://www.conferenciaepiscopal.es) they have the Liturgical Calendar posted (in two .pdf files). It lists blue as a liturgical color, but I searched and found it only on the entry for 8 Dec (which lists both white and blue). The relevant file is:


  9. Choirmaster says:

    Ironically, I have found that the same “experts” that insisted on using blue vestments, etc., for Advent and feasts of the BVM were the same one’s that, at any other time, scorned Marian devotion.

    I haven’t seen much of that recently, though.

  10. Tomás López says:

    Apparently, there was a 19th C. indult for blue to be worn on Marian feasts in Spain and Latin America.

    For instance, if you follow this link, http://www.osb.org/amcass/ordo/2008/nov.html, you will see the current Benedictine Ordo; if you scroll down until you get to Thursday of this week (27/11/2008), you will note that blue is referenced for Puerto Rico.

    While you on the mainland are celebrating Thanksgiving, here in on the island, we are busy commemorating Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.

  11. Peter Karl T. Perkins says:

    On blue for Advent, I’m told that the Anglicans use it. The reason, apparently, is that, before the time of aniline dyes (1830s), the colours of vestments depended on what local berries produced. These berries were bluer in Northern Europe and redder in Southern Europe. This is why the Lutherans and Anglicans, mostly being in Northern Europe, ended up with blue vestments. I imagine that, later, they wanted to differentiate from Lent and so used violet for Lent once it became available.

    In the case of the Catholic Church, I imagine that violet was imposed by law once it became possible for everyone to have it.

    There are now more smoke signals that the traditionalist Anglicans (TAC) are about to cross the Tiber. When they do, they will no doubt bring their blue vestments (and other weird colours) with them. But that is only for them, not for us. In the Latin Church (as opposed to Eastern), blue vestments are used in Spain, some parts of Southern France, and one Diocese in Canada, for feasts of our Lady: it is a Marian colour.


  12. RedShirt says:

    There were pictures of Archbishop Ranjith celebrating mass in blue this year http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2008/05/mgr-ranjith-pontifical-mass-blue.html so at least some of these indults must be still be in effect (if Bavaria, why not Spain too?)

  13. Mitch says:

    I have no objection in the future to see blue used, perhaps as mentioned above for a Marian Feast. But first let’s get the Black and Rose vestments back on track and used. After all, they are approved…….

  14. TNCath says:


    I think those vestments are white with blue accents, which I believe are acceptable.

  15. Joe Magarac says:

    Anyone who wants to see the Pope’s all-red Advent wreath candles can do so here.

    The close-up shot was in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper along with an explanation that in Bavaria, Advent candles have historically always been red.

  16. Mitch says:


    Those vestments were definetly blue with white and gold accents. The primary color (i.e. backround color, or dominating color) is the color of the vestments. The indult for Bravaria is probably only for the EF Mass as it existed at the time of the issue of the Missal in 62.

  17. ben says:

    Downside Abbey in the West of England also has a legitimate and longstanding indult to use blue vestments, on the feasts (I think) of our Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception AND her Assumption. I was shown their blue pontifical set in the sacristy. It is gorgeous.

    As a novice at one of Downside’s daughter houses, I agitated for the indult to be extended to all monasteries in the Downside ‘familia’, but my pleas fell on deaf ears (we, did, however, have and use vestments in yellow, beige, and that slightly-more-blue-than-violet shade known to many as ‘Anglican purple’).

    In the mean time …

    Wear the black, wear the rose.

  18. Dr. Eric says:

    Bring back the black, bring back the rose, and allow for blue for Marian Feasts.

    I’ve also heard that the Advent Wreath was a Lutheran invention and that giving presents on the 25th December is also one. Before Luther, presents were given on the 6th December or the 6th of January.

  19. Alessandro says:

    Fr., in our sacristy of the Basilica of St. Anthony (Padua) we have some wonderful roman chasubles (planetae) from the XVIII and XIX sec., and they are: 1) light blue, it was used for marian feasts; 2) white backgroud, almost completely covered with blue designs (so in the old days they went round the law!) used as well only for marian feast to these days.

    In Northern Italy the candels of Advent wreath are red, as in Germany, Austria, and Alto Adige. I think we received that custom from the diocese of Bozen-Brixen.

  20. plisto says:

    Hey, just to give my two cents to the discussion, here in Finland everybody who wants to be “civilized” (what ever that is..) has only white candles. The Advent-Wreath is not very common here, but we intend to make one with the kids -with white candles, of course…. ;-)

    Blessed season of Advent to everyone!

  21. Mary Firiel says:

    “There are now more smoke signals that the traditionalist Anglicans (TAC) are about to cross the Tiber. When they do, they will no doubt bring their blue vestments (and other weird colours) with them.”

    Many already have, and thus we have the Anglican Use. :)

  22. josephus muris saliensis says:

    In most of the Europe I know: northern France, Germany, Netherlands, England, Scadinavia, the advent candles are red, in some areas unbleached wax. The purple/pink thing came to England only ten years ago, now I understand, presumably form the States, under the influence form the ecclesiastical shops. It is generally regarded here as pretty tacky. The concept of silk vestment colours being used for wax candles strikes me as odd, to say the least, certainly it is wholly without any traditional basis in Europe. In southern Europe, (France, Spain, Italy, Portugal), the candle wreath remains unknown.

    Stick to red, I say, it is the most traditional (this is after all a German custom).

    It is worth remembering that until after Vatican II the advent wreath was not in the church at all, let alone in the sanctuary. It is a monastic refectory custom by origin, and is used in every catholic german house I know on the dining table, as indeed I do here, with red candles and green branches.

  23. Fr Ray Blake says:

    And I wanted someone to buy this for me for Our Lady for Christmas
    but then I would say it was bluish shade of white, like gold being a yellowish shade of white, or white actually being multi-coloured brocade.
    The spectrum of liturgical colours shouldn’t be too narrow, green can range from almost black to virtually yellow, purple can range from episcopal magenta to dark violet. I have seen black velvet were the pile was black silk but the base colour was blue which showed through when the vestment moved.

  24. Fr Ray Blake says:

    But talking of Advent wreaths, why in Church? In England it is comparatively new, not just coloured candles, the whole thing, shouldn’t the be discouraged?

  25. Jayna says:

    Well, at least I can say that whatever else my parish may lack, it isn’t rose vestments. And my priest makes sure to point out that it’s rose. Every year he tells the same joke (and you can tell by it that he has a terrible sense of humor): “Father is resplendent in rose, not pretty in pink.”

  26. Brian Day says:

    Re: blue vestments.

    I commented about it last year, but my Bishop (Tod D. Brown of Orange in California) wears blue vestments. It’s hard to complain about vestment colors when your bishop is the biggest violator of liturgical rules.

    I don’t know where this picture was taken, but it is an accurate color representation of his blue chasuble and miter. http://www.ancient-future.net/uploaded_images/Tod-Brown-789943.jpg

    Pray 4 Bishops.

  27. Brian: I have seen those vestments before (probably at WREC)…You’re right though…We in LA have it bad…Fortunately I haven’t seen any blue vestments in the Roman Rite in LA

  28. Maureen says:

    Wow. WE Americans have had purple and pink candles and Advent wreaths since before living memory, and YOU Europeans are behind the curve on the custom. WE know all about having it in church at Mass since before living memory, and YOU have never seen this strange thing.

    Mwahahaha! Lovin’ that role reversal!

    I suspect that part of the story is that, in America, Catholics had to do a lot of fighting against getting subsumed into mainstream Protestant culture. Here, red candles and wreaths, or white candles and wreaths, were used widely by non-Catholics as just random Christmas decorations, by people who had no idea they had anything to do with Advent.

    Rose and purple candles would probably have been used by a few Catholics, just because they were there. But if you want to keep your kids remembering that the wreath on the table is for Advent, darn it, and that it’s not Christmas decor, those pink and purple candles definitely make the point.

  29. Mike says:

    Why Brian, that isn’t “blue”.. that’s color-blind purple…

  30. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    I’ve seen shades of blue used during Advent that are very lovely, ranging from an indigo, to a sort of “midnight” blue, and shades of blue that creep into the territory of purple. For a while we used blue in the parish of my youth, and at home we used deep, nearly purple blue bows. But we returned to purple.

    Mole Hollow candles makes a lovely “plum” shade of purple, and Colonial Candle Company has an “iris” shade of purple, that is very dark and lovely. There’s also a lovely and very deep shade of rose that Mole Hollow makes, in case folks reading are looking for ideas of Advent wreath designs for their homes.

  31. Mhar Angelo says:

    In our Ordo published by the Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference (Philippines), it is said that blue may be used for Masses in honor of Our Lady. It also “suggests” violet vestments with a bluish hue in Advent.

    Guess the editor of the Ordo?

  32. Leah says:

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this Sarum Rite blue vestments thing, and decided to go to the Catholic Encyclopedia because everyone genrally agrees that it’s a comprehensive, reliable source. Interestingly enough, here is what it has to say about the Sarum Rite vis a vis its color scheme:

    “(6) The Sarum sequence of colours is very ill-defined. However, as in the Dominican Missal, it is expressly laid down that on solemn days the most precious vestments be used irrespective of their hue. Otherwise, the recognized Sarum colours were white, red, green, and yellow, with black for Masses for the Dead. In the later centuries purple or violet, and blue, seem to have been very generally added. Yellow vestments are prescribed for feasts of Confessors. To our Blessed Lady white was allotted, but never blue, which colour, on its introduction from the Continent, was looked upon as merely a substitute for purple or violet. In Passion-tide (Good Friday included) the Sarum liturgical colour was red — a custom still observed at Milan. A striking peculiarity of the Sarum Use was the appointing of white vestments for Lent, except at the Blessing of Ashes on Ash Wednesday when the celebrant wore a red cope. Similarly the sacred pictures and statues were veiled in white and not as with us in purple. They were thus covered not only during the two last weeks of Lent, but from its beginning until Easter Sunday morning.”

    From what I’m reading, blue was a substitute for purple (rather like we can substitute gold for white sometimes, perhaps?) only, and it was NOT used for Marian feasts.

    Seems like an even shakier rationalization for using blue than just that no one uses the Sarum Rite anymore.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m ok with blue being introduced properly. I just don’t like people rationalizing breaking the rules.

  33. Ellen says:

    Unless I go to a Catholic store, (the nearest one is an hour long drive) there are times I can’t find purple or rose candles. So this year I am going to use white candles with purple and rose yarn tied around them. Sometimes, one has to improvise.

  34. josephus muris saliensis says:

    This is most interesting. Just as we deplore the loss of local customs everywhere, it is now apparent that the pink/purple candle arrangement is specific to North America. Thus it should be retained there, and NOT imported to Europe, where the tradition of red candles should be continued. Equally, extraneous customs should not be introduced just for the sake of it, where they do not exist. Church furnishers, should they read this blog, please take note.

  35. Kim D'Souza says:

    People, post pictures please! I would especially be interested in seeing the blue vestments described by Alessandro from Padua and Ben, the Benedictine novice.

  36. Maureen says:

    Hmmmm. Wikipedia claims that there were some sort of Advent wreaths in the Middle Ages, but that modern Advent wreaths only started in the 1800s in Germany, invented by some German guy as a sort of red and white candle version of an Advent calendar. The evergreens weren’t added to the candle ring until the 1860’s.

    Ohohohoho. So American pink and purple candles came along quite soon after that, and indeed the German wreaths aren’t anything particularly ancient. (Which isn’t surprising, as most Christmas customs that are common to day are children of the 1800’s.) Thus, complaining about candle color changes is like someone complaining about breaking the ancient traditions of the microwave oven, by having them come out without oven racks the way the old microwaves had.

  37. Maureen says:

    I will add that the general impression of ancientness is probably because the wreaths were probably brought over by German immigrants. Anything from the old country usually came to be considered ancient or medieval, whether it is or isn’t.

  38. Austin says:

    The Sarum “white” for Lent was not really liturgical white, I believe, but the
    so-called “Lenten array” of unbleached linen. I’ve seen it used in some of the
    Percy Dearmer/Parson’s Handbook style Anglican churches that resurrected a number
    of Sarum usages. It has a solemn effect, though if one’s used to violet it does seem

  39. Jane says:

    Thanks for the information on the Advent wreath.

  40. my kidz mom says:

    Re: blue candles…this from my “liturgically enlightened” parish bulletin:

    “The four candles represent the four weeks of
    Advent. Three of the candles are deep Royal
    Blue or Purple, the traditional colors of royalty, to
    welcome the Advent of the King. Purple is also the
    color of Lent, which highlights an important
    connection between Jesus’ birth and his death.”

  41. Liz says:

    No other colors are acceptable yet the Pope’s advent wreath is red. answer that. Also it was created in Germany way before any catholics got a hold of the concept.

  42. Alessandro says:

    I put some pictures of blue roman chasubles from the Basilica of Padua on my blog

  43. Mary W says:

    The pastor of the church I attend has worn dark green vestments on the first two Sundays of Advent this year. What’s up with that?

  44. Jon says:

    “it was created in Germany way before any catholics got a hold of the concept.”

    I didn’t know Germany and Catholicism were unrelated. Was Germany not Catholic for hundreds of years prior to the formation of Luther’s heretical sect? Did not large portions of Germany remain faithful to the one true faith even after the Protestant Revolt?

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