Liturgy is a language, and so it must have rules

The Pope, last Sunday CNS photo/Paul Haring

Gaudete Sunday, which has just passed, is back in the vocabulary of Catholics. When I was a child, the phrase was never mentioned, and I had no idea what rose vestments looked like, or why they should be used. But rose vestments and Gaudete, and of course Laetare, are now things that have returned to the mainstream. Proof of this is provided by two random parish newsletters that I saw recently. They were of the sort that have a prepared text on one side: both mentioned Gaudete, and both had a rose-coloured masthead. Presumably most parishes up and down the country used rose vestments last Sunday, and the parish newsletter publishers have now caught up with this. Likewise all the Advent wreaths that I have seen feature a pink candle, which was never the case once upon a time.

That excellent website The New Liturgical Movement has been advocating the cause of rose vestments for some time, and in a recent article it suggests that over three quarters of parishes now have them, and more importantly, use them.

You might think that the world has more to worry about than the correct use of vestments, and in a sense you might be right. But the use of rose vestments is to be encouraged simply because liturgy is a language, and all languages have grammar and rules, and the use of rose on Laetare and Gaudete Sundays is coherent with liturgical language. To use the “wrong” colours on these days is like making a grammatical mistake: make too many of them, and your language ceases to be a vehicle for shared meaning and comes to express nothing more than what you think, rather than being the universal language of the Church.

Rose has a strong non-verbal message for us. It is a colour that points to a joy to come. It marks the half way point on the penitential journey, and as a cyclist, I can tell you that marking halfway point on arduous journeys is something that is very human and very consoling.

While on the topic of liturgical colour, let us not forget gold, ideal for special occasions, such as major feasts and weddings; and let us not forget black. The liturgy allows the use of black, violet and white for funerals. The New Liturgical Movement has an interesting article on the subject and notes, correctly I think, that black is making a comeback as a liturgical colour.

I personally, when planning a funeral, always offer the family a choice. None have opted for black, I have to say, and there does seem to be an aversion to it in some quarters. But in at least two funerals where I had the choice myself, I wore black, and the use of black received favourable comments. Black is solemn, and there should be a solemnity to a funeral. As for my own funeral, I think I would like black vestments.

What are the views of the faithful on this matter, I wonder?