Sunday, December 11, 2011

Gaudete Sunday, Rose-Colored Vestments, and Advent Wreaths

Why does the priest sometimes wear pink on the third Sunday of Advent?

First, it’s important to define the exact color in question. The liturgical color that can be worn on the third Sunday of Advent (“Gaudete Sunday”) is rosacea, or “rose” – not pink. Rosacea has a slight orangish-red tint to it, sort of like a fresh salmon filet. If you’ve never actually seen rose-colored vestments before, you might be surprised to find that they are very distinguished and beautiful. Pink, on the other hand, is a paler, more feminine color. Think “Pepto-Bismol”.

In our modern times, vestments for this day have gotten a little bubble-gum crazy and, as a result, a priest risks looking like a big Care Bear every time Gaudete Sunday rolls around. Thankfully, he can also choose to simply wear violet.

Here are some examples of rose-colored vestments, courtesy of Fr. Z and New Liturgical Movement (go to each site and search for "Gaudete" and "rosacea"):

As you can see, there is some acceptable variation in color. Some of the vestments above are closer to red, others closer to purple. All of them are very dignified and appropriate for the third Sunday of Advent.

The reason for the color change is to emphasize in a poignant way that the Lord is near. Advent is now more than half-way over! The bursting forth of such an unusual color has the effect of a sudden exclamation in a quiet room. In the midst of our penances, and our quiet contemplation, a voice cries out: Gaudete in Domino semper! “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Those are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for today, and that’s why we call this day “Gaudete Sunday.”

Where does the Advent wreath come from? What does it mean?

The following explanation is from Fr. William Saunders, a popular Catholic apologist and theologian:
The Advent wreath is part of our long-standing Catholic tradition. However, the actual origins are uncertain. There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreaths with lit candles during the cold and dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm and extended-sunlight days of spring. In Scandinavia during winter, lit candles were placed around a wheel, and prayers were offered to the god of light to turn "the wheel of the earth" back toward the sun to lengthen the days and restore warmth.

By the Middle Ages, Christians had taken up this practice and infused it with profound symbolism as a way to prepare for Christmas. Since Jesus is the light of the world (cf. Jn 8:12), it is fitting that the wreath would produce more and more light the closer we get to Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent. Three of them are purple, a color traditionally associated with penance and prayer. One of them is rose, a symbol of our rejoicing. The circular shape of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul and the everlasting life found in Christ.

Pax Christi,


  1. You say there is "some acceptable variation in color" for the rose vestments. What makes you say these variations are acceptable? Just because there are photographs of different colors/shades doesn't mean they are acceptable. Is blue acceptable because there are photos of blue vestments? Rose is optional for 3 Advent. Proscribed color has been violet since they revised the calendar in the 1960s.
    And "distinguished and beautiful" are in the eyes of the beholder.

  2. I never said that variations in color are acceptable because there are photos of these variations. Rose seems to be a difficult color to get just right. Sometimes you see it tinged with more red, other times with more purple, but in both cases still "rose." I explained what the color should look like. Priests need to approximate that the best they can.

    There was also no need to point out that rose is optional. I affirmed that in my post.

    Finally, beauty is not exactly in the eye of the beholder. At least, it is not only there. From my blog post, "Beauty and Catechesis":

    First, it is important to note that beauty, while an objective reality, is not entirely devoid of a subjective component. The objectivity of beauty is revealed once beauty is associated with two other traits: truth and goodness. As David Fagerberg points out, since we would not say something is good simply because we want it, and we would not say something is true because we believe it, neither should we say that something is beautiful just because we like it. “In the opinion of the pure objectivist, subjective emotional experiences have their importance in explaining why we call things beautiful, but emotional experiences do not constitute the essence of beauty, and they are not what make reality beautiful.”

    Like the great philosophers and theologians who came before him, St. Thomas Aquinas distinguished three “constituents,” or qualities that constitute beauty. These are proportion, integrity, and claritas. Proportion, as he defined it, is “the suitability of matter for receiving a form, the fitness between a thing’s essence and its existence…” When a thing has harmony, rhythm, peace, or is properly ordered, it has proportion.

    The second quality, integrity, refers to the amount of completeness that is found in a thing. A thing has perfect integrity if it is “the complete realization of whatever it is supposed to be: nothing is missing that should be present.” In other words, an altar with three legs does not have the same degree of integrity as an altar with four.

    The final quality, claritas, refers both to “a brilliant color, warm hue, or right complexion” and “the communicability of the essence of a thing.” So, for example, a church building would lack claritas if, when the eye first beheld it, the thought that came to mind was “spaceship” instead of “church.” [. . .]

    Thomas Aquinas worked from a great tradition in his treatment of these constituent elements of beauty. However, he also added a new dimension to the objectivist understanding. With Thomas, new attention was paid to the perceiver and to his experience of beauty. For this reason, some are prone to consider him among the first subjectivists on this issue. In a sense he was, but not in the radically relativistic way in which most people understand beauty today.

    Thomas would probably agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but not in a way that would make beauty a matter of opinion, or subject to each individual’s personal feelings. Now, it is true that beauty pleases when it is seen. This is because there is an objective quality in beauty that solicits agreement with our consciousness. But, that does not mean that beauty is necessarily in the object. It is not in my visio, or perception of the object either. Instead, “beauty issues in the encounter between my visio and that object. The reason the thing pleases upon being seen is because my vision encounters the ‘splendor of being’ in that object.”

    You can read more about beauty here:

  3. Our Priest wore a soft pink. He is new here and I have never seen that color before. It had no shades of purple or red.

  4. It's ok, Marilla, sometimes priests are forced to work with whatever has been passed down from previous pastors.


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