Friday, December 7, 2018

Violet or Blue?

Blue, violet, and other colors are available in the Luther brocade and other fabric selections from

Copyright © Edward Riojas

More than opinions involving fruitcake or those pitting St. Nicholas against the pagan obesity, there is perhaps one issue that most clearly divides Christendom this time of year. It doesn’t involve the interpretation of Scripture or articles of the Augsburg Confession or even political leanings. It involves color.

I was recently reminded of this when sharing a photo of vestments in progress on the work table of Ecclesiastical Sewing. Amid a sea of kind compliments, there were little eddies of discontent with the Advent color choice of [gasp!] blue.

Some churches stick to violet and others stick to blue. Both colors have their virtues – if colors can, indeed, be virtuous. Violet is most often associated with penitence. Blue, if kept away from lighter shades, is associated with royalty. Violet is the color of Lent. Both Lent and Advent carry strong overtones of penitence and the need for a Savior to be born and to die for the sake of sinful man. Blue, on the other hand, points to the Advent of our King, His coming as the Infant Christ, and His coming again at the last.

But where did these colors come from in the first place, and how did they come to symbolize a Church season? This is, of course, the point at which one may expect the debate to be settled; where history states its case; where we can all have clear consciences that our own church is spot-on with tradition. Just don’t hold your breath too long.

The history of colored vestments and paraments is a very convoluted thing, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with a color’s meaning. Assigning meaning to color congealed in the Middle Ages, when heraldic symbols – and colors – became all the rage. I put the historical question to Carrie Roberts, owner of Ecclesiastical Sewing, and quickly found out that early churches had “ or maybe two sets of vestments that were "good" – those being white – and if the church were wealthy enough, red. Other sets for non-festival days were brown or whatever color was available.” Brown? I wonder what that means. Carrie summed it up best in saying the use of color on vestments and paraments is a “muddled historical mess.”

In short, neither violet nor blue is superior to the other, and it’s okay to use either or both or none at all. Now about those rose-colored vestments for Gaudete Sunday...

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