My friends, I have always thought that one of the most appealing aspects of the Catholic church is its richness of symbols and within the holy season of Advent, we certainly do see the truth of this. From the greens of the Advent Wreath which express so simply and wonderfully our hope in a God through Jesus who will come again to us and our world to the liturgical color of blue, and the continual lighting of candles—one more for each passing week, shedding light into our existence—this season is full of announcement and preparation, longing and mounting joy!
Today, I would like to speak about the liturgical color of blue and its meaning in light of Vatican Council II. I checked into sources—Catholic Directory and other on-line sources for some history on the newer use of the royal blue and white for Advent as opposed to the purple and pink colors of older times—pre-Vatican II and found the information, “sketchy” at best—almost as if it had never been done.
If you are a frequent visitor to a traditional Catholic church in present day, you will see the Advent Wreath adorned with purple candles and a pink one for Gaudete Sunday. The vestments of the priest and any drappings in the liturgical space are purple as well.
Here at All Are One, Advent’s color has always been and will continue to be blue. I checked with a local liturgist as to his recollection of the starting of the use of blue for Advent and the return to the purple and he seemed to connect the start and finish of the blue for Advent with particular priests serving the parish.
So, what are we to make of this? A good place to start would seem to ask what the color “blue” represents and then look to its significance liturgically.
The color blue is reflective of the blue “of the sky” and of “the ocean.” Back in history when colors were first given to the Seasons of the Church Year, around the beginning of the 5th Century, 431 A.D. to be exact, blue was given to Mary, our mother and sister. The color blue also signifies the “healing of God” as well as, “the Word of God.” Blue is additionally seen as signifying, “positive light.” Another source spoke of “the Waters of Genesis” and the “beginning of a new creation,” when considering the color, blue.
I personally have always connected the changing of the Advent color from purple to blue with the changes that came over the years from the Second Vatican Council—not that this change was made immediately, but in the years after the Council, as those who were more forward thinking tried to be faithful to Pope John’s call that we update our liturgies through language and other rituals, to become more relevant in peoples’ lives and perhaps become more true to the real purpose of the season. And the thinking of course was that the theme of Advent and the theme of Lent are not the same and so should be reflected in different liturgical colors with different meanings. In the past and apparently now in the present, in the traditional church; we are saying that each season is penitential and about suffering, which surely isn’t right.
So, my friends, as close as I can determine, the blue color for Advent came into being during the late 80’s or early 90’s in many parishes and then during of the end of the papacy of John Paul II (died in 2005) and that of Benedict XVI (he resigned in 2013), we reverted to the purple.
Anyone familiar with the 28 year reign of John Paul II knows that throughout his time in leadership; he was about moving the Church back to pre-Vatican II times, and for the most part, Benedict XVI followed suit.
So, why is this important? I can only really speak for myself because as I said earlier; one is hard-pressed to find much where ministers of the Word and the Altar are willing to publically speak to the good of the use of the color blue to distinguish Advent from Lent, which as I said above, also uses the color purple.
The color purple has always stood as a symbol, a sign of a time of “penitence and fasting”—for looking deeply into our lives and asking sincere questions about, how am I doing with the “Christian Experiment”–with truly following in the footsteps of our brother Jesus? Now for the Season of Lent, this seems an appropriate task, but not for Advent.
Our readings for this Second Sunday in Advent let us know that. Isaiah clearly states, “Console my people—give them comfort—speak tenderly to Jerusalem’s heart—that its time of service is ended—make a straight path for our God.”
Peter, in the second reading, continues the theme of rejoicing—“what we await are new heavens and a new earth.” These ideas, commendations and salutations do not speak of penitence and suffering, signified by the color purple. They do in fact speak of new life—a new creation—a reason to rejoice! Thus, the color, blue, which means all of that!
One of the reasons I did find, from an obscure liturgist for not using the color blue was that it would signify that the entire season of Advent is about Mary—her color, “again, being blue. Now I agree that the whole season is not about Mary, but I think we would have to agree, she does have a significant part to play! And when considering blue for Advent, let’s not forget that, as stated, blue is also used to signify a “new creation,” “the beginning and ending of days in the blue sky” and the “healing of God”—so evident in Isaiah’s words, “to the heart” of Jerusalem—“your time of service has ended.”
In deference to Mary and “making the error” of somehow dedicating the whole of Advent to her; I think there are greater errors that have been made over time; slavery, the Inquisition, the Crusades, to name a few, but I digress…except to say, it seems that only a man could have such a worry as this one with regard to Mary. As an end note, it probably is not giving Mary too much credit to acknowledge her rather significant place in the history of bringing Emmanuel among us through her simple, yet most profound “Yes.” How many of us could have shown such strength?
In Mark’s reading, today’s gospel, where he presents us with John the Baptist, the theme of a merciful, loving God coming—wanting even, to be, One-With-Us, Emmanuel, is continued. The Jewish people awaited the coming of the “Messiah,” one to conquer their enemies, the Romans—specifically, for so long, that it was literally, part of their, DNA. But for all their waiting, they really didn’t understand how this “messiah” would appear—they saw it rather, one-dimensionally, and we can hardly blame them, because so often, our faith is rather, one-dimensional too—it is only with the passing of time, that we in our present times, can have 20-20 vision, so to speak.
John the Baptist’s words this week, while familiar, do not tell us much about how this Jesus, as Messiah will come among them. What it does tell us about is John’s sense of his relationship with the Messiah—“One more powerful than I” and of whom, “I am not fit to untie his sandal straps,” but here is the hope we should have, “he will baptize you with the holy Spirit,” whereas I have only baptized you with water. Now, it will take these first believers a long time to understand just what John means, but in hindsight, our present day vision is clear—this is something for all of us to rejoice over—thus the color blue, for “new life,” a new creation,” not purple, representing, a time of penitence and suffering.
Now you may think that I am protesting too much, but let me only remind us all that Jesus came, was with us for a time, and then left his Spirit that we would not see with only one-dimensional eyes, but see on two, three and even more, dimensional levels, “continually renewing the face of the earth,” realizing that Jesus first came for the lowly, thus his own birth in a stable in Bethlehem. This may not be Good News for all, but it certainly is for the lowly and if we are truly to follow him; we must see our path in sharing the goods of this earth with all.
In 2021 and going forward; we once again have the chance to care for all through a new administration in Washington who will try, I believe, to care for all and the Church Universal should come aboard with this plan and not just see serving life only one-dimensionally, but on many dimensions, so that we all have a place at the table.
For this reason, my friends, I have spent so much time in this homily discussing the color blue versus the color purple as I see this as a prime example of our Church wanting to stay stuck in the past, focusing on ourselves through “penitence and suffering” in shades of purple rather than focusing on a “new creation”—“a new earth” that seeks to eradicate world hunger, inequality in every form, systemic racism, a virus we can’t see that has dealt so much pain and suffering to so many. We can most effectively show that now, in this Advent, through shades of blue—new life, really! Amen? Amen!