ASK FATHER: Can a pastor forbid an assistant from using black vestments?

priest vested blackFrom a priest…


Can a Pastor of a parish forbid a Parochial Vicar from wearing a black chasuble at funerals? I just heard of 2 pastors in [a large NE Archdiocese] who have forbidden their traditional-minded parochial vicars from wearing black at funerals.

Black is an approved color for funerals, Masses for the Dead, in both the Traditional Roman Rite and the Novus Ordo.   Permission is not needed to use black, nor can it be forbidden.  It is a legitimate option.

That said, the “my house, my rules” state of reality generally applies in parishes and the locum tenens is the pastor.  If the pastor is a monumental jerk, he can crucify the assistant in a thousand creative ways.   Frankly, assistants (the newfangled “parochial vicar”) have the right to Christian burial and that’s about it.

Furthermore, it may be the expressed desire of the deceased and his family that black be used.  In that case, the pastor truly would be a monumental jerk and a real scrub.

What these “pastors” are doing, of course, is ensuring that these men will use black in their own parishes as soon as they get out from under the rigid, narrow-minded oppressors to whom they are presently assigned.

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  1. jaykay says:

    And yet, many of the congregation, especially the close family, will be wearing sober black suits, women and men, and black ties for the men. The undertakers will all be doing so, and sometimes even black top hats, or bowlers. Yet the priest has white vestments. Ok if you’re Chinese, where white, I understand, is the mourning colour, but… we’re not. Yes, yes, I know all about the whole thing of joyfulness, celebrating birth to eternal life, blahdy-blah. But, birth to eternal life will mean a (prolonged) purgatorial period for the vast majority of us. Reality. Hence, a tone of solemn recollection is appropriate and thus: black. Or at least violet. And who, exactly, is offended by this? Exceptions can be made for young children, of course.

  2. Bthompson says:

    I sometimes have wondered the same thing. While one wants to be conscious about whether a hill is worth dying on or not (no one is as petty as an angry leftist priest), I have always understood, and was trained even by my *very looney* seminary (though the education was solid) that provided an option is legitimate, no one of any rank or office can mandate the celebrant of given Mass do A rather than B or do C or not if it is optional. Indeed, telling another priest how to say Mass is pretty close to unconscionable provided he is choosing legitimate options.

    However, I’ve never really wanted to test that as I don’t know where or if that’s actually written down somewhere, so I wouldn’t know where to go to defend myself, as well as the aforementioned potential for petty extrajudicual retribution.

  3. LeeF says:

    I’ve only seen this happen with a parish run by a religious order. I think such a pastor who is also a superior in the order might in fact be able to forbid it. Either way it seems to be the same dopey thinking that leads to churches with only large risen Jesus statues instead of a large permanent crucifix. These people seem to forget that the cross and the resurrection are not separable.

  4. Matthew says:

    You can express a desire that the celebrant of your funeral Mass wear black vestments?
    I should probably make sure Father has a set of black vestments as I want to sign on for that.

    No real rush though, I hope, but you never know.

  5. iamlucky13 says:

    No doubt both pastors have some compelling reason to offer for why their clericalism is necessary…

  6. defreitas says:

    When my dearly beloved mother passed away we wanted a black pall over the coffin and the mass using black vestments. When I approached the parish priest and said that we would like the funeral mass in black he said that the archdiocese mandated either white or purple. White was preferred because they promoted the concept that a funeral was the fulfillment of the Baptismal vows represented by white vestments (or something to that effect). After I got over my initial shock, I told him that two Ukrainian Catholic Priests, one a dear friend of the family and the other my brother-in-law, would both be wearing black vestments as per their tradition, and would be concelebrating. That seemed to do the trick and he said that he would contact the chancellery and ask their permission to use black vestments, but if the answer was negative that he would not go against their decision. In the end we had the service we wanted, but I myself had to provide the black pall. I can’t blame the Parish Priest because he was very amenable, but I always thought that black was still a liturgical colour, even though now hardly used.

  7. Imrahil says:

    If no black vestments are present, there’s always the option to use violet vestments which have to be present even for the liturgical cycle.

    I personally find that while expiation for the deceased person’s sins (which is symbolized by the violet color) is one, and one much neglected nowadays, but still not the only thing a requiem and funeral is about, and hence the idea that violet is preferred to black because it be “less harsh” is a mistake; the somber but somewhat festive black is obviously the less harsh of the twain. Be that as it may, violet is obviously preferable to white.

    That said, even if choosing colors other than white (in countries where this is regrettably an option) should, by hypothesis, have express episcopal support, doing something the pastor doesn’t like would probably be on par with, in the military, doing something (perhaps with the Captain’s support) which the First Sergeant doesn’t like.

  8. Fr AJ says:

    Yes this definitely can happen. A few years ago an assistant at a parish in my diocese told me that he was forbidden by the pastor from wearing black or violet at funerals – white only. The assistant then tried to wear white with purple trim and was told no.


  9. Fr. Kelly says:

    While this unreasoned opposition to the liturgical color Black is met with pretty widely, it remains true that black is the normal color for requiem Masses and Masses on All Souls Day. If white or purple are used it is by way of substitution. I am glad to say that in my parish we always (or virtually always) use black for funerals. I have never had any negative comments from attendees in more than 4 years of this. Unfortunately we don’t have a black pall, so we have to use the white one that I inherited.

  10. Sonshine135 says:

    Where is Pope Francis on the stark rigidity of such people? Such Rigidness in a heart allows no place for the Holy Spirit to flourish. It is as if Christ is knocking on the door, and no one will open to allow him to enter.

  11. Ellen says:

    At both my mother and father’s funerals we had a white pall, but the priests wore violet vestments. I want violet at my own funeral.

  12. The drama about this is really comical, if you can have a sense of humor about it.

    In my experience, very few people (other than clergy and “liturgists”) care about this. Some people, however, have been told they should care, and so I would expect, for some time, to have complaints about not using white; but not many.

    In my present parish, where I have been for going on three years, I pretty much only use black (I use purple for Easter season; is that bad?), and no one bats an eye. We only have a white pall, however. I had the impression that the pall, for the Ordinary Form, was supposed to be white?

  13. The Egyptian says:

    the heck with the pastor, he’s not the one who is being buried, as for me I will NEED black vestments and a true requiem Mass, with all the bells and smoke please, I am afraid I’ll need all the help I can , because no matter how much the priest and people think and say he has been raised up on eagles wings, (knew that get you Fr ) I doubt it and want prayers for the repose of my soul, lots of them PLEASE

  14. Athelstan says:

    At my grandmother’s funeral Mass, I made a point of requesting black. The pastor (new at the time), regretted that they did not have black vestments in the sacristy; but he *could* use purple/violet, if we were amenable. More to the point, however, he was pleased as punch that someone had actually asked for black, and understood why. It’s just possible you might encounter such a priest when the time comes. And they need the encouragement to do such things, too.

  15. Hans says:

    If you’ve not read Eamon Duffy’s fascinating Voices of Morebath about a Catholic priest and his village of Morebath, Devon, during the 16th century, one of his long term goals was to get, and then keep, a set of proper black vestments for funerals. It became, as Henry’s revolution “progressed”, part of his Catholic identity.

  16. Jaykay’s comment prompts another consideration: how the faithful dress at a funeral. When the black disappears from the sanctuary, how can that not make it more likely the faithful will dress down as well? I’m always astonished to see how some people dress at weddings and funerals. Sunday Mass is one thing; that is obligatory, and so some number of people are going to go under duress, and parents will often sigh, “at least s/he’s coming.” But no one has to attend a funeral or a wedding, and it’s not usually something you have to “fit in.”

    If the priest sets the best tone in how he celebrates the funeral, that can only have a good effect on how everyone else approaches it.

  17. Moral_Hazard says:

    When my father passed away last September, I would have very much liked a traditional requiem mass, but kept my desires in check for my mother’s benefit whom I’m sure wouldn’t have appreciated an argument with the pastor / parish staff. I was turned off by the shocked scorn of my request for “In Paradisum” at the end of the funeral being told “but that’s a chant.” I put my foot down on “all creatures of our God and king” though.

    In my opinion, the traditional requiem captures the depth and breadth of the human condition in confronting death. It shows the majesty of God, the sacrifice of Christ, the anguish of loss, and the hope of life eternal. The modern happy clappy trappings can’t do that. They’re a veneer of false happiness that is out-of-touch with most people’s feelings at a funeral.

  18. Aquinas Gal says:

    I agree that the pastor shouldn’t try to forbid something that’s a permitted option.
    But in terms of virtue, perhaps Jesus would be more pleased if the assistant
    went against his own preference and obeyed the pastor–even if this is something
    that strictly speaking the pastor shouldn’t command–rather than insisting on it.
    “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

  19. fishonthehill says:

    When I was a young priest I had this issue. The older pastor flat out said… we don’t do that here. Now as pastor I only use black either gothic or Roman, and get many compliments from the faithful. Irony is, my two younger curates (i’m 42) only wear white, go figure!

  20. I love the drawn-figure of the priest vested for a funeral Mass, and wearing a biretta! There are so many reasons for offering either the work and prayer of our life–or even occasional prayers–for priests. We can always do something to benefit our priests by cooperating with God’s grace. “Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet.”

  21. defreitas says:

    Its a pity that black has come to be seen as deathly morbid and sorrowful, when the origin of the colour for funerals was quite different. In most countries white was the colour for funerals. It represented the purity of burn sacrificial ashes and white bones bleaching in the desert. A woman dressed in white in India is regarded as being in deep morning and it is not a joyful or pleasant thing. Black as a mourning colour came to be used in the West after the Romans adopted it from the Egyptians. In Egypt, black was the colour of the rich fertile soil of the Nile floods and was symbolic of Resurrection, from death to life. In the tomb of Tutankhamen two life size figures of the king were shown with black painted skin. These figures would resurrect in the afterlife and act as avatars for the soul of the deceased. Black was the colour of life everlasting, our ancient forefathers understood that, too bad we have forgotten where life really came from.

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