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!