Dear Catholic Exchange:
My church has been using blue advent candles instead of purple for a few years now. Our priest also uses blue vestments and the altar cloth is blue. I sort of miss the purple I grew up with. I have heard everything from both blue and purple are acceptable; to blue should never be substituted for purple. Do you have any idea why the switch, and is it acceptable? Our priest says it is because Advent is a joyous time and the church is trying to distinguish between Advent and Lent and that many other churches have made the switch. I'm not sure I buy that explanation.
Peace in Christ!
The blue vestments are implicitly addressed in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal. Here is the rundown of colors for the liturgical year:
“The purpose of a variety in the color of the sacred vestments is to give effective expression even outwardly to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and to a sense of Christian life's passage through the course of the liturgical year” (no. 345).
“As to the color of sacred vestments, the traditional usage is to be retained: namely,
“White is used in the Offices and Masses during the Easter and Christmas seasons; also on celebrations of the Lord other than of his Passion, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the Holy Angels, and of Saints who were not Martyrs; on the Solemnities of All Saints (1 November) and of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (24 June); and on the Feasts of Saint John the Evangelist (27 December), of the Chair of Saint Peter (22 February), and of the Conversion of Saint Paul (25 January).
“Red is used on Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion and on Good Friday, on Pentecost Sunday, on celebrations of the Lord's Passion, on the feasts of the Apostles and Evangelists, and on celebrations of Martyr Saints.
“Green is used in the Offices and Masses of Ordinary Time.
“Violet or purple is used in Advent and of Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the Dead (cf. below).
“Besides violet, white or black vestments may be worn at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America.
“Rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
“On more solemn days, sacred vestments may be used that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not of the color of the day.
“Gold or silver colored vestments may be worn on more solemn occasions in the dioceses of the United States of America” (no. 346).
“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 season or in violet if they are of a penitential character, for example, no. 31 (in Time of War or Conflict), no. 33 (in Time of Famine), or no. 38 (for the Forgiveness of Sins); Votive Masses are celebrated in the color suited to the Mass itself or even in the color proper to the day or the season” (no. 347).
Notice that blue is not listed as a liturgical color for vestments, whereas purple is specified for Advent. Furthermore, the recent instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, written to address “certain matters to be observed or avoided” stresses that:
“It is the right of the community of Christ’s faithful that especially in the Sunday celebration there should customarily be true and suitable sacred music, and that there should always be an altar, vestments and sacred linens that are dignified, proper, and clean, in accordance with the norms” (no. 57).
The norms specify violet or purple for vestments during Advent, except for rose on Guadete Sunday.
The Advent Wreath is a pious practice that is not regulated by the Church as the liturgy is. However, if it is thought that the candle colors should be that of the sacred vestments, purple or violet, not blue, should be selected.
Finally, it can be argued that purple is appropriate for the candles on the Advent wreath. The Directory on Popular Piety, which promotes pious activity, says that
“Advent is a time of waiting, conversion and of hope:
“waiting memory of the first, humble coming of the Lord in our mortal flesh; waiting-supplication for his final, glorious coming as Lord of History and universal Judge;
“conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3,2);
“joyful hope that the salvation already accomplished by Christ (cf. Rm 8, 24-25) and the reality of grace in the world, will mature and reach their fulness, thereby granting us what is promised by faith, and “we shall become like him for we shall see him as he really is” (John 3,2).
Here, Advent is not primarily characterized by joy. Joy takes place in the hopeful anticipation of the coming of Our Savior and cannot be squelched, but is more the character of the Christmas season itself. Purple signifies waiting and conversion, which characterizes Advent. Purple also represents royalty and makes us mindful of why we prepare. Thus, purple signifies the basic character of the Advent season, while blue does not. Liturgically, blue has been used as a secondary color on white vestments to represent Mary for her feast days.
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