Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Black Vestments

There's an interesting article entitled "Black Must Come Back (in the Liturgy)" at The New Theological Movement. It worth reading the entire essay.

In this excerpt, the author, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, makes some excellent points about the confusion caused to the faithful when the priest wears exactly the same vestments for the All Saints' Mass as he does for the All Souls' Mass.

The theology of a Requiem Mass for the dead
Black signifies mourning, but not simply mourning in general. Rather, black directs us in a particular way to mourn and pray for the dead. While white is a color of festivity and rejoicing, violet is the color which signifies penance and sorrow for sin.
However, violet directs us more to mourning for our own sins, and to performing penance for our own wretchedness. Black, on the other hand, helps to direct us to mourn not for ourselves but for the deceased. This is why black is so fitting for the funeral Mass (as well as Requiems and All Souls’): The color reminds us to pray for the dead.
The funeral Mass is not really about the family – though there are certainly many prayers for the consolation of those who mourn. Rather, the funeral Mass is primarily for him who has died: Nearly every prayer is for the forgiveness of his sin (i.e. of the temporal punishment of sin). Funerals are not primarily for the living, they are for the dead – whatever anyone (even if he be a priest) may tell you! This is why it makes no sense – theologically – to wear either white or even purple for a funeral Mass or Requiem.
A test case: All Saints’ and All Souls’
Consider, as a test case, the recent feasts of All Saints’ and All Souls’ days. In many (perhaps most) parishes throughout the USA, the faithful saw the priest wear the very same vestment for All Souls’ day as he did for All Saints’. What sort of theology does this communicate to the people?
On All Saints’, the priest is directed to wear white vestments because the saints are already in heaven and enjoy the vision of God. They are perfectly happy and have no need of our prayers. All Souls’, however, is the Mass offered for the holy souls in purgatory – it is offered as a prayer in their behalf, for the remission of the temporal punishment they bear for their sins.
Now, if the priest wears white vestments on All Souls’ day, can he be the least bit surprised that his faithful have ceased to believe in the reality of purgatory? If the priest wears the color of festivity, rather than the color of prayerful mourning, who will ever believe that there are any souls who suffer purgation after death?
Considering the essential difference in the character of the Masses of All Saints’ and All Souls’, it is a scandal (yes, a scandal) that white is the most common color de facto for All Soul’s day. However, sadly, the use of white is by no means a liturgical or rubrical violation.
Be sure to read the entire article!

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