A Color for Holy Saturday

When Easter 2022 was over, a colleague contacted me: Just asking with foresight, what is the liturgical color of Holy Saturday?

This question might be irrelevant in most cases, since there is no Holy Saturday Mass. But what color should a priest’s stole have when he presides e.g. at Tenebrae? I remembered that around 10 years ago a priest asked me the same, five minutes before Tenebrae started. Without any hesitation I answered: red, so he throwed on a red stole. This Tenebrae issue did not arise again in the following years: I usually joined a Benedictine monastery for the liturgy of the Three Holy Days, and none of the monks ever wears a stole for the Liturgy of the Hours.

Now, when the question arose again after ten years, I asked other colleagues. To my surprise no one said red. Instead I got votes for black and for purple.

Then I tried to find out if there are any general rubrics for the Roman liturgy on that issue. I did not find any German diocesan calendar answering the question, but what about the worldwide level?

Before the Second Vatican Council, Good Friday was celebrated in black (because of Jesus’ death), Holy Saturday in purple (probably because of Lent), and the Easter Vigil started in purple before the color changes to white (the light color of sunlight, resurrection, and salvation).

When the Roman calendar was rearranged in 1969/70, the papal Motu Proprio Mysterii Paschalis on the new Universal Roman Calendar said nothing at all about the liturgical colors. Neither did the newly published Calendarium Romanum from 1969. But at least it gave an important hint as it clarified that Lent ends before the Maundy Thursday Mass (m. 28).

The liturgical colors are specified in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (no. 346). The key provisions are as follows:

As to the color of sacred vestments, the traditional usage is to be retained: namely,

Well, to be precise, not everything in the following paragraphs follows the traditional usage.

… white is used in the Offices and Masses during the Easter and Christmas seasons; also on celebrations of the Lord other than of his Passion.

Does that make white a serious candidate for Holy Saturday? No, Easter season starts with the Easter Vigil.

Red is used on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and on Good Friday.

Does that make red a serious candidate? Absolutely, as I will show below.

Violet or purple is used in Advent and Lent.

Does that make purple a candidate? Not really, since Holy Saturday does not belong to Lent.

As Holy Saturday has no Mass, we do not find specific information for this day, even if the Office is sometimes mentioned (as above when the text speaks about the white color).

So let us have a look at the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours: nothing whatsoever on the liturgical colors.

It seems that there is no respective rubric at all, or have I missed anything? Probably there are diocesan rubrics somewhere, but as far as I can see there is no worldwide rule for the Roman Rite.

Eventually I would still argue that red is the best choice. My argument is backed by the Circular Letter Concerning Preparation and Celebration of Easter Feasts that the Congregation for Divine Worship issued in 1988. This document closely connects Good Friday and Holy Saturday (see no. 27, 39 and 40).

I find it a bit disappointing that the liturgical color for Holy Saturday has not been determined anywhere, and I wonder why that is. Is it because there is no Mass? But the people in charge should know that liturgical vestments are also worn in other liturgies.

My spontaneous answer from ten years ago still stands: Red is the color for Holy Saturday, even when it is against the aforementioned traditional usage from the times before the Second Vatican Council, and even when the liturgical books do not determine the color specifically. Or, to say it a little more pointed: Red, what else?

25 comments

  1. I wonder if the ordos for various monastic/religious uses address their own customs in this regard explicitly. And I wonder if any cathedral chapters have a reasoned explanation for their current practice, if any.

    In preconciliar practice, Easter Vigil was purple because it was a vigil, at least before the Mass properly speaking began at the Gloria. (Holy Saturday was Lent until Noon, but the Vigil was celebrated after the end of Lent with the Pian reform of the Triduum liturgy.) The reformed liturgy did not carryover that practice into the celebration of vigils.

  2. At Morning Prayer liturgies on Holy Saturday, I’ve seen priests/deacons wearing a white stole.

  3. Since the altar is still without paraments on Holy Saturday, I would opt for priests and deacons foregoing any stole on Holy Saturday and simply wearing an alb or cassock and surplice.

  4. I don’t have it on me (and the pages have been ripped out), but the ordo for the dioceses of the Pacific Northwest list a color. But I have no idea by whose authority!

    The Benedictine ordo for the American Cassinese Congregation says PURPLE:
    https://www.amcass.org/documents/ordo/ordo-2022.pdf

    I’m sure quite a few other have copies of the ordos on them.

  5. All the diocesan ordos that I have consulted so far show no colour at all for Holy Saturday, though I’m sure others will specify a colour.

    Is there not a case for saying that Holy Saturday is a colourless day, a day when the Church as it were holds its breath, suspended in time between Good Friday and the Resurrection?

  6. In the old rite, in addition to the vestments at Mass (and Solemn Vespers) colors were prescribed for the tabernacle veil and the altar frontal. So there was a definite sense of a color for the entire day. For Holy Thursday, the frontal was purple for Tenebrae, then white for Mass, then purple for Vespers, after which the altar was stripped. After that the only colors specified were black for the main Good Friday service, white for the Exsultet, purple for the rest of the Eater Vigil, and then white for the Vigil Mass. While some churches still dress their altars and tabernacles in customary colors, this is no longer prescribed, and in any case there would be none of that on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. So the only colors now specified are white for Holy Thursday Mass, red for the Good Friday service, and white for the entire Easter Vigil. No color seems to be prescribed for anything else. When I was a pastor I wore a red cope for Good Friday Morning Prayer and Stations, a purple cope for Holy Saturday Morning Prayer, then switched to white for the Blessing of Easter Food. That made intuitive sense to me (and hopefully to the congregation).

  7. I had the same conundrum this year when I was getting ready to officiate on Holy Saturday. I considered white briefly because the Book of Common Prayer’s Holy Saturday liturgy is funerary in nature and, in fact, borrows from the burial rite. I also considered red for the reasons that Dr Lumma identified. In the end, I opted for cassock, surplice, and tippet for three reasons: 1) the altar is bare, as Dcn Bauerschmidt has pointed out, and the tabernacle is empty so mass vestments didn’t seem exactly right; 2) our Holy Saturday liturgy is essentially an Office, so office dress seemed right; and 3) the tippet is liturgically colorless in my mind (it’s black, obviously, but not for the same reason that black vestments are black) and so it seemed neutral enough. I’m glad that others are thinking about this! I didn’t think to google on Holy Saturday morning when get vested.

  8. only because its not been mentioned
    only because it won’t be found in any of the rubrics or ordos
    and because Holy Saturday is beginning to hold a place in the journey to Easter
    and because Holy Saturday is being regarded as more than the day that Mom takes the Easter food to the church for a blessing —
    and because for decades, I held this prayer in my heart — Mother Mary, teach my heart your prayers of Holy Saturday that I may know the Gifts of Waiting for the fulfilment of God’s Covenant.
    And so — I propose Marian Blue
    for no one could better convey the depth of Love, the depth of Faith-filled-ness that should be our witness on Holy Saturday than Mary, His Mother.

  9. There is a bit of a precedent in the former usages. There was no colour for the Offices during the Triduum: choir dress was worn. At pontifical Tenebrae the bishop used the throne (without any hangings) wearing cappa magna. There were however two oddities. In the Roman patriarchal basilicas, the cardinal archpriest presided at Tenebrae at the faldstool wearing a black cope. He couldn’t use the throne, being in Rome, and couldn’t wear the cappa (being in Rome, and at the faldstool). And the 1600 Ceremonial of Bishops had the bishop wearing a white cope to bless the fire and listen to the Exsultet, then resume the cappa for None (yes, the Ceremonial contradicted both the Missal and good sense, by reversing into Holy Saturday morning, which it still was, but that’s is a different problem entirely; I doubt if anyone ever followed this rubric), then a violet chasuble for the prophecies. The only lesson I can find here is that it was never very clear and still isn’t!

  10. “Lent ends before the Maundy Thursday Mass” – this is spot on and relevant to the question. I’d agree with Lee Bacchi.

    The Tridentine precedent is of historical interest but of limited relevance today, because before the reform the priest only put on white when “the Mass of Easter” began at the Gloria of the Vigil. Holy Saturday today is properly white because the rites of that day are celebrated within the time span of the Paschal Triduum. Good Friday is red because it is the color of blood and martyrs.

    Several have mentioned the liturgy of the hours, and I suppose it’s fine not to wear a stole at the Hours (Fritz is no doubt correct).

    No one has mentioned the liturgical celebration of the Preparatory Rites (RCIA) which normally takes place on Holy Saturday (unless they are anticipated). Would the celebrant of these not wear a stole? Very clearly, the point of reference of the Preparatory Rites is not Good Friday but the Easter Vigil. No color is named in the ritual text (probably because they may be anticipated, even within the catechumenate period, and therefore would suggest green), but the baptismal logic of this when they are held ON HOLY SATURDAY is pretty inescapable.

    1. Thanks for this, Rita!
      We conclude our Holy Saturday morning prayer with some RCIA rites (and it’s a good kickoff for their retreat that morning and afternoon, too!)
      I’ll make sure we wear white from here on out. (But honestly I can’t remember what we did even 3 months ago, let alone pre-pandemic when we had well-attended morning prayer during Holy Week.)

      1. There seems to be a creeping paschalism here. Under the custody and guidance of the Holy Father Saint Pope Paul VI and the Ecumenical Council, the calendar was rid of this by the strengthening of the earlier promulgation of the first Mass of Easter to the later evening of Holy Saturday and, by collapsing the Pentecost celebration down to just one day at the end of Easter.

        Now extra PT is being advocated for at the start of the season, and the unique expression of the Blessed Sabbath (as some liturgical traditions call it) is being lost by what appears to be the movement of the start of the Easter season, even back to the morning of Saturday. It’s quite concerning.

      2. John, where have you been? This isn’t some new thing. The Paschal Triduum in the reform (now almost 60 years ago) was conceived as a unit distinct from Lent. Each day of the Triduum celebrates the whole of the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising — together the great three days crown the year, and the Vigil is the high point of the whole liturgical cycle. It’s in the documents. There’s a consistent theology here. Lent is over. The pascha isn’t something that’s “creeping” — unless by that you mean that implementation of the reform is taking place so slowly that it seems to creep. 🙂

    2. Before Vatican II, Latin Rite priests who weren’t bishops were forbidden to wear a stole when leading the Office. And for good reason: they weren’t administering a sacrament, blessing an object, preaching a sermon, or reading a lesson from the gospels. (There was an exception when the hour was directly preceded by exposition and directly followed by benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.) Leading the Office doesn’t require ordination. A stole would have been purely a badge of rank.
      I don’t understand why GILH allowed stoles to be introduced into the Hours. “Sacrosanctum Concilium” was about making worship simpler and having reasons for rubrics.

    3. Rita, this is wrong. The Mass of the Paschal vigil in the missal of St Pius V is a full Mass, beginning without an introit (a peculiarity of the two great vigils, of Easter and Pentecost, which are unlike any other vigils in the Roman liturgy); the solemn Kyrie is sung as the ministers enter and, from the 15th century onward, say the prayers at the foot of the altar. They wear white vestments, having retreated to the sacristy at a specified point in the Litanies (shortened from the usual form used at processions, like on the Rogation Days, ordinations, and, later on, the Forty Hours, but doubled) to remove the violet stole of the deacon and priest worn underneath the (folded) chasuble that was already removed at the prostration.

      The color for the baptismal rites of Holy Saturday morning in the Roman liturgy was violet, which is why the Rituale Romanum specifies this for infants. The actual baptisms would allow for white.

      You say all of this as if the answer is obvious, when in fact there is a lacuna about which no one has thought about and where a multitude of answers are possible. Why would we wear white when the liturgy of Saint Paul VI is all about the emptiness of the day, where Christ is in the tomb, dead and not risen, and we are outside of it mourning? Continuing with red, since that was the last color worn, or reverting to violet for lack of a better option, seems reasonable enough, and if Rome declares that in fact one should wear white (particularly for the choral office where priests and deacons inexplicably are supposed to wear a stole), then fine, but it’s incoherent with the day’s character.
      Even as far back as the Gelasian Sacramentary, the Mass was distinct from the baptismal liturgy, irrespective of the color and particular vestment combination as well as the rites of the beginning of Mass; the baptisms etc. ended, then the Mass began.

  11. Indeed Rita, I’d say the main interest of the contradiction between the Ceremoniale episcoporum and the Missal is to show that, even in the wonderful post Tridentine world, “Do the red and say the black” is insufficient: the rites need an informed interpretation in order to be well celebrated.
    And I agree with Fritz that the Hours are best colourless.
    The question of RCIA is interesting. Personally I’d see them as the conclusion of the time of purification and enlightenment, coinciding with Lent, and use violet. Out of curiosity, I’ll ask Isaïa Gazzola (who teaches RCIA at the ISL) what he thinks.

  12. Hello – the Ordo for the Chicago Archdiocese and Dioceses of Rockford and Joliet specifies Violet for Holy Saturday. No direct explanation is given, but these notes given for the day touch on one or two points made in earlier comments:

    [Begin quote]
    * Holy Saturday is the day of proximate preparation for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation when the rites of preparation may be celebrated [RCIA, 140, 185-205]
    * The image of Christ crucified or lying in the tomb or the descent into hell, which mystery Holy Saturday recalls, as well as an image of the sorrowful Virgin Mary, can be placed in the church for the veneration of the faithful.
    * The faithful are to be instructed on the special character of Holy Saturday. Customs and traditions associated with this day on account of the former practice of anticipating the celebration of Easter on Holy Saturday should be reserved for Easter night and the day that follows. In this regard, see PN under Holy Saturday night.
    * The celebration of marriage is forbidden, as is also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of Penance and Anointing of the Sick. Holy Communion may only be given this day as Viaticum
    [End quote]

  13. Holy Saturday is such an interesting day. The day recalls Christ’s body lying in the tomb (Invitatory antiphon for the day: “Come let us worship Christ, who for our sake suffered death and was buried”), but also his soul descending to the realm of the dead to proclaim the Good News to the dead (cf the Canticle for the morning: “You have preserved my life from the pit of destruction when you cast behind your back all my sins…The living, the living give you thanks, as I do today” [Is. 38:17, 19]

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church also connects this day with baptism:

    “628 Baptism, the original and full sign of which is immersion, efficaciously signifies the descent into the tomb by the Christian who dies to sin with Christ in order to live a new life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” [Rom 6:4; cf. Col 2:12; Eph 5:26.]”

    The baptismal connection argues for white (or so it seems to me).

    1. Catechumens are preparing for Baptism, not yet baptised, still ‘bearing the stain of Original Sin’. In that understanding, the anointings and Ephphatha of RCIA could reasonably be done in penitential violet. Clothing with a white garment comes after being washed clean.

      1. I would agree that white is inappropriate before the Vigil, bit purple penitential is too genrric. N the context of Triduum, red seems most appropriate, especially if we are saved by the blood of the cross.
        And I would also say we are never going th het Holy Thursday right until we go to Ted there as well as on Milsn.

  14. It was late. I would agree that white is inappropriate before the Vigil, but penitential purple is too generic. In the context of Triduum, red seems most appropriate, especially if we are saved by the blood of the cross.
    And I would add that we are never going to get Holy Thursday right until we go to red there as in Milan.

    1. I have no expertise but as a mere PIP I would love one day to see: Red on Holy Thursday, Black on Good Friday; Holy Saturday: simply wearing an alb or cassock and surplice; White beginning Easter Vigil.

      And Rita I got the memo but am taking out my red pen, marking it up, and sending it back for some future authority. My own little contribution to synodality.

  15. As a matter of fact, the Roman Ordo (Ordo missae et divinae officii persolvendi) seems to have consistently indicated violet/purple as the colour for Holy Saturday. True, one could object that Lent ceases on Maundy Thursday afternoon. On the other hand, fasting is expected to dure until Holy Saturday inclusively; the fast is broken only through the Paschal Vigil. Therefore, it seems to be logical to stick to violet/purple until the beginning of the Vigil (Palm Sunday and Good Friday of course excluded).

    1. This is correct, and this is why the MSS consistently indicate the Tract Laudate Dominum as the last tract to be sung in Lent, during the Mass of Holy Saturday, even though the Alleluia has been sung for the first time in the triple form passed down even in the missal of 1969/2002.

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