ASK FATHER: Is Advent a penitential season? Also, Advent Blue Vestments… NO! ANNUAL SONG ALERT!

From a reader…


In my 14.75 years as a Catholic, I’ve heard that Advent:

1) Is a penitential season
2) Is a semi-penitentials season
3) Is no longer a penitential season but was before Vatican II
4) Never was a penitential season

Can you clarify which is the truth? References to manuals and codes of canon law are always appreciated.

Yes, Advent IS a penitential season.  It just makes sense.  However, the present Code doesn’t oblige us to do penance in the way that it does during Lent.

Before our great feasts, Christians fast and do penance and, if they have their heads screwed on the right direction, perform works of mercy. In ancient Christian Rome, for example, people would cut back on their food on fast days (obviously), but they would also give the difference to the poor.

Advent is a penitential season. The Church’s prayer in Mass and the Office traditionally continues our reflection on the Second Coming of the Lord… which is a matter for penitential preparation. This is reflected on the loss of the Gloria during Advent and our use of violet vestments. Waaaay back in our history, black vestments were used during Advent, which was a longer season.

That said, Advent is like Lent, but it is not like Lent. Advent is also rightly described as a season of joyful expectation. We are preparing also to celebrate the feast that, perhaps, touches us the most deeply: the Birth of the Lord. Hence, there is also a strong Marian dimension to our Advent reflection.

I like to describe Advent as a season of joyful penance or, if you prefer, penitential joy. We can hold the two in a beautiful, fruitful tension.

Consider that Advent presents the figure of John the Baptist, who said: He must increase, I must decrease.   Kenosis.  Sounds penitential to me.

Liturgical directives instruct us not to have flowers on the altar, not to have instrumental music except to support congregational singing.  Sounds penitential to me.

Back to the vestments for a moment.

Some people like to distinguish between the purple shades used in Lent and Advent. They make Lent’s purple redder and Advent’s purple bluer. Those who don’t care for penance all that much (libs, in particular), had a craze for blue vestments during Advent. They cam up will all sorts of lame excuses for the use of blue. Blue, however, is NOT an approved color for Advent! There are some long-standing traditions of the use of blue vestments in the Latin Church, such as the Spanish indult, among others. As a matter of fact, in the coming calendar year, our TMSM is going to have a set of blue vestments made for Pontifical Mass on particular Marian Feasts. Why? ¡Hagan lío! BUT… for ADVENT? NO! And again NO!

Each year I have had a bit of a rant about blue vestments. Consider that my annual rant. And here is the now legendary song about Advent blue vestments

Please DONATE to our vestment projects fund!   I am President of the Tridentine Mass Society of the Diocese of Madison.  I’ve been raising funds for this Society so we can have wonderful vestments for Solemn and Pontifical Mass with the Extraordinary Ordinary.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Parody Songs and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Imrahil says:

    Not that it would be worth much, but I think that option 2, “semi-penitential season”, is a rather apt hands-down practial description in brevity of the way of being penitential which our reverend host quite rightly describes as the one belonging to Advent.

    Of course #3 and #4 are nonsense. Sadly, you still do hear #3 from both progressive- and traditional-minded Catholics, the latter, of course, in a regretting and “but we still keep it penitential” tone. Well, the 1917 CIC did not contain any Advent fasting, apart from Ember Days and the Vigil of Christmas; and that was just short of 50 years before Vatican II.

  2. KT127 says:

    It might be silly. But my husband and I always start Advent watching A Christmas Carol. We have two versions we love and we save the second for later in the season. It is a great reminder of the Last four things wrapped up with the joy of Christmas.

  3. Eoin OBolguidhir says:

    My wife and I were married in Advent, and we were required to obtain a dispensation from the prohibition of having marriages during this somber season. Lucky for me the dispensation was granted!

  4. Fr. Pius, OP says:

    From the NCCB’s (USCCB’s) 1966 statement on Penance and Abstinence, which is still referenced in the complementary norm for can. 1253 in the U.S.:

    5. Changing customs, especially in connection with preparation for Christmas, have diminished popular appreciation of the Advent season. Something of a holiday mood of Christmas appears now to beanticipated in the days of the Advent season. As a result, this season has unfortunately lost in great measure the role of penitential preparation for Christmas that it once had.

    6. Zealous Christians have striven to keep alive or to restore the spirit of Advent by resisting the trend away from the disciplines and austerities that once characterized the season among us. Perhaps their devout purpose will be better accomplished, and the point of Advent will be better fostered if we rely on the liturgical renewal and the new emphasis on the liturgy to restore its deeper understanding as a season of effective preparation for the mystery of the Nativity.

    7. For these reasons, we, the shepherds of souls of this conference,call upon Catholics to make the Advent season, beginning with 1966, a time of meditation on the lessons taught by the liturgy and of increased participation in the liturgical rites by which the Advent mysteries are exemplified and their sanctifying effect is accomplished.

    8. If in all Christian homes, churches, schools, retreats and other religious houses, liturgical observances are practiced with fresh fervor and fidelity to the penitential spirit of the liturgy, then Advent will again come into its own. Its spiritual purpose will again be clearly perceived.

    9. A rich literature concerning family and community liturgical observances appropriate to Advent has fortunately developed in recent years. We urge instruction based upon it, counting on the liturgical renewal of ourselves and our people to provide for our spiritual obligations with respect to this season.

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