From ZENIT’s Archives
ROME, DEC. 7, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I have always observed that the priest wore a rose or pink vestment on Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Last year, around this time, our pastor informed us that such a practice was abandoned and, as such, there were no longer any pink vestments nor pink candles during Advent (and that there was a move away from considering Advent a penitential season). But, lo and behold, a visiting priest wore them on the following Sunday, and, when asked, insisted that the practice was never changed. — R.L., Frederick,Maryland
A: Our reader from Maryland (and others) have asked questions regarding the use of rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays. The essential norms dealing with the use of liturgical colors are found in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 346.
“As to the color of sacred vestments, the traditional usage is to be retained: namely,” a. 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).
“b. 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.
“c. Green is used in the Offices and Masses of Ordinary Time.
“d. Violet or purple is used in Advent and of Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the Dead (cf. below).
“e. 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.
“f. Rose may be used, where it is the practice, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and on Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
“g. 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.
“h. Gold or silver colored vestments may be worn on more solemn occasions in the dioceses of the United States of America.”
To this we may add the observation of the instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” Nos. 121 and 127.[121.] “The purpose of a variety of 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.” On the other hand, the variety of offices in the celebration of the Eucharist is shown outwardly by the diversity of sacred vestments. In fact, these “sacred vestments should also contribute to the beauty of the sacred action itself.” [127.] “A special faculty is given in the liturgical books for using sacred vestments that are festive or more noble on more solemn occasions, even if they are not of the color of the day. However, this faculty, which is specifically intended in reference to vestments made many years ago, with a view to preserving the Church’s patrimony, is improperly extended toinnovations by which forms and colors are adopted according to the inclination of private individuals, with disregard for traditional practice, while the real sense of this norm is lost to the detriment of the tradition. On the occasion of a feastday, sacred vestments of a gold or silver color can be substituted as appropriate for others of various colors, but not for purple or black.”
From all this it is clear that the custom of using rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays is to be maintained whenever possible.
If a parish lacks rose vestments then the usual violet is used.
The names Gaudete and Laetare comes from the traditional entrance antiphon, or introit, sung at these Masses.
Both terms may be broadly translated as “rejoice” or “delight” and refer to the importance of the theme of Christian joy, even in the midst of a penitential season, which is reflected in the formulas and readings of both these Masses.
With respect to liturgical colors, a bishops’ conference, above all in mission territories, may seek the Holy See’s approval to adopt other colors if the symbolism of the traditional colors would be misunderstood.
In some Asian countries, for example, white is the traditional color of mourning and does not have the festive connotations prevalent in Western society. In such cases the bishops may propose the traditional festive colors of the culture.
While blue is not an official liturgical color, some countries, such as Spain, and some Marian shrines have the privilege of using blue-colored vestments on Marian feasts such as the Immaculate Conception. These are vestments made of blue-colored fabric and not just white or silver vestments with blue trimmings or blue Marian motifs, which may be used everywhere.
Historically it appears that all sacred vestments were white until about the seventh century. Around the time of Pope Innocent III (died 1216) we had four principal colors (red, white, black and green) and three secondary colors (yellow, rose and purple). But a common criterion for the use of the various colors is not found until around 1550, when the present usage became standard.
As “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” No. 121, says above, the purpose of using different colors is to express the specific character of the various mysteries. The use of the diverse colors is both pedagogical and symbolic of the various liturgical feasts and seasons.
Thus, white, the symbol of light and purity, and gold and silver are festive colors. Red expresses both the fire of the Holy Spirit and the blood of the Passion and of martyrdom. Green is the symbolic color of hope and serenity.
Violet, recalling somberness and penance, has also largely replaced black for funerals although this latter color may still be used. Rose, which has never enjoyed frequent use, serves as a reminder, by using an unusual color, that we are halfway through a penitential season.
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Follow-up: Pre-recorded Music
As a corollary to our column regarding the use of pre-recorded music at Mass (Nov. 23) a reader from Taiwan asked about the legitimacy of pre-set accompaniment to live singing, a possibility offered by many modern organs.
Simultaneously, a correspondent from Wisconsin reminded me of the 1958 instruction “De Musica Sacra” issued by the Congregation of Rites, which states: “Finally, only those musical instruments which are played by the personal action of the artist may be admitted to the sacred liturgy, and not those which are operated automatically or mechanically.”
This document followed Pope Pius XII’s 1955 encyclical, “Musicae Sacrae,” in which he insisted that liturgical music be “true art,” if it is to be a genuine act of worship and praise of God.
Although these documents precede the Second Vatican Council, there is practically nothing in the conciliar or post-conciliar documents which would contradict the principles enunciated or invalidate their general normative value.
Indeed the council’s insistence that choir and musicians form part of the liturgical assembly would even strengthen the presumption against the use of mechanical music.
There may be exceptions, as we saw in the case of children’s Masses, but any general permission to use recorded or automatically produced music would require the express approval of the corresponding bishop or episcopal conference.
According to the above documents it is preferable to sing without musical accompaniment than resort to artificial means.
A Nigerian correspondent requested if, due to the dearth of musically literate parishioners, it were possible to hire professional musicians to play the organ or other instruments even if they are non-Catholic.
Paid musicians are actually quite common, especially in cathedrals and large churches.
The principle, however, is that, even if paid, the musicians should form part of the assembly, and hence be practicing Catholics.
There may be circumstances when this is not possible and a parish must recur to the services of non-Catholic professionals in order to support the liturgical participation of the faithful.
In such cases great care must be taken to ensure that the musician understands the sacred nature of the music to be played and to avoid musical virtuosities and other elements that smack of public concert performances.
The latter criterion, needless to say, is also valid for Catholic musicians.
They should likewise always be in a supportive role with respect to the choir and the rest of the assembly. For the purpose of good liturgical music is to foster the active participation of the assembly, at times through joining in the song and at times by meditatively listening to the music while uniting heart and soul to God.
As far as I know, there is no recent official document which would forbid the use of non-Catholic musicians in the above-mentioned circumstances or on very special occasions, provided the use is limited and the music played is genuinely Catholic.
In 1988 I remember participating at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger but attended by the Holy Father, in which Rome’s German community celebrated the 10th anniversary of the pontificate with a thanksgiving Mass accompanied by a major German orchestra and choir that sang Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.”
Certainly not all of the musicians were Catholic, but the Mass and the Music certainly were.
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