Help, It’s Advent and Our Paraments Clash!

At our little parish on the south side of Indianapolis, we have worked hard to coordinate our “arts and environment” space with our liturgical seasons.  We’ve had volunteers graciously polish our brass candlesticks, take time out of their work week to tend to our plants and flower arrangements, and have recently had a skilled craftsman-parishioner construct a stand for our beautiful Advent wreath.  We have many blessings.

Despite our many gifts, I am stuck this Advent season on one small point for our parish.  In short, while our priest matches our deacon, and our deacon matches our priest…both priest and deacon most certainly do not match our altar cloth!

While our priestly and diaconal vestments are of the “blueish-purple” school of liturgical colors, our altar parament (and our new Advent banners) are most certainly of the “reddish-purple” camp.  We are a purple-clashing disaster.  On the one hand, I recognize that my parament problem is, in the large scheme of things, a small issue (as my brother would say, “another first-world problem!”).  Nonetheless, I feel justified in identifying this lack of coordination as, at least, immensely annoying.  In liturgical studies, we frequently discuss how the dynamic of liturgy is studded with a “both/and” character—a character which embraces both song and silence; both Table of the Word and Table of the Eucharist; both praise and petition.  I would argue that the value of this “both/and” dynamic does not extend to color coordination!

Across the Christian denominations, the proper shade of purple for Advent and Lent has been a debated issue.  Some are of the opinion that distinct shades of purple should be used for each season—but this poses a problem for a congregation who cannot afford to spend a significant budget on paraments.  For Roman Catholics in the States, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops simply advises that the “liturgical color for Advent is purple, just like Lent—as both are seasons that prepare us for great feast days” (USCCB).

At the end of the day, liturgical colors are meant to teach and to reinforce the character of liturgical seasons.  They are meant to “draw people to the true nature of the mystery being celebrated rather than being ends in themselves” (Built of Living Stones 124).  Perhaps our mismatched cloths and clothes might serve to remind us (and me) that we are continually striving for perfection in our imperfect earthly worship, and continually preparing our mismatched selves to be ready to greet our Savior.

In the meantime, we will do our best to continue decorating our worship space in a way which is prayerful, appropriate, and functional.  We will attempt to focus on our “redemption at hand” rather than the “anxieties of daily life” this Advent season (Luke 21: 28, 34).  And, we will try our best to serve our Lord in our worship and in our work…even if we do make poor fashion choices!

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8 comments

  1. Violet/purple applies to the liturgical vestments for the ministers. Why not just a plain simple white cloth on the altar? Move the banners far enough away from the altar so that the clash is not that noticeable.

  2. From another small parish on a budget (we don’t match either):

    Of course, the top cloth on the altar is always to be white …

    You might soften the clash between vestments and altar cloth by adding decorative bands (even ribbon) in colors or patterns that relate to the vestments, to the visible part of the purple cloth. (Sometimes patterned cloths are a useful option, if hard-to-match vestments are plain.)

    Meanwhile, I like your thought about the mismatch reflecting our own state. And I agree, some space between the banners and the altar should solve that problem.

  3. I would tend to doubt they “clash” – rather, it would seem they *don’t match*. As it stands, when it comes to vestments, the Roman rite doesn’t get specific beyond “violet”* – which is neither red, nor blue, but its own band of tones between them. FWIW, back in the ’60s, I tended to see redder violets used in Advent, and bluer violets used in Lent, but not consistently in either case. So long as it’s credibly some shade of violet, I don’t think it matters.

    * Before anyone tries to dissect what shades/hues of “violaceus” are intended, they might find interesting the below link’s summary of shifts in production of dyes – to which I would add that, until the advent of modern dyes, the reds in natural dyes were terribly prone to fading over time with exposure to light, and that may have acted to form expectations regarding shades/hues:

    http://saintbedestudio.blogspot.com/2007/11/liturgical-colour-violaceus-in-roman.html

  4. One hesitates to ask, but… What happens on Gaudete Sunday?

    Rose is supposed to be in the same color family as purple, but if bluish purple is already clashing with reddish purple, it’s puzzling to think where or how rose will fit in. Hmm.

    When in doubt, I think it helps to look to nature. If blues and purples can exist together in the garden, and it appears they can, they can co-exist in the sanctuary. Consider African violets. Their different purples all seem to me excellent. But each is surrounded by dark green.

  5. Thanks for so many comments and suggestions! We do have a white altar cloth (the “mensa”) which covers the top of the altar, and lies on top of our purple. On Gaudete Sunday…last year we added two pink poinsettias and left it at that!

    The issue of space and relation between the elements raises a good point–unfortunately, the most strenuous “clashing” occurs with the priestly and diaconal vestments right next to the altar cloth. All of the elements have been recently purchased.

    I think the heart of the issue isn’t about this particular instance, but a larger question: even with imperfection, is it worth using liturgical aesthetic elements as teaching tools, or is imperfection too distracting? This “problem” could be applied to different elements in the liturgical ritual (for example, is imperfectly rendered chant “distracting”?).

  6. if everything was recently purchased then why the clash? Did anyone check the vestment color before buying the paraments?
    Anyway, we simply use a serum blue & purple for advent and use violet for Lent.
    While I agree that both Lent & Advent are a time of preparation for a major Feastdays, I disagree to a point.
    Advent is joyful anticipation while Lent is a penitential time. Thus we use different colors.

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