The beautiful meaning behind the rarest liturgical color
On one Sunday each Advent and Lent, Catholic priests have the option of wearing a rose chasuble.
Odds are likely if the priest chooses that color, he will come out of the sacristy and offer some sort of comment prior to starting Mass about how what he is wearing is rose, not pink.
Sometimes the priest might even seem somewhat embarrassed, especially if his parishioners give him a hard time (because, let’s be honest, most rose vestments look pink to those who don’t spend a lot of time studying paint chips or the color choices in a fashion catalog).
While the choice of color and the priest’s comments might elicit a number of chuckles from the congregation, rose vestments have been part of the Church’s tradition for many centuries. It is, in fact, a beautiful color that has deep symbolic meaning.
This color, which is only used twice in the whole liturgical year, is traditionally associated with a sense of joy amidst a season of penance. On both Sundays (Gaudete in Advent and Laetare in Lent), rose is worn to remind us that the season of preparation is coming to a close and the great feast is swiftly approaching.
Even the Entrance Antiphon that is traditionally sung at the beginning of Mass on Laetare Sunday (the Fourth Sunday of Lent) speaks of the joy we should possess.
Lætare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: gaudete cum lætitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestræ.
Psalm: Lætatus sum in his quæ dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus.
In English it reads:
Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.
Psalm: I rejoiced when they said to me: “We shall go into God’s House!”
When we see the color rose at Mass we are beckoned to rejoice; the season of penance is coming to a close and the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection draws near!
The necessity of joy
Pope Francis, throughout his pontificate, has put much emphasis on joy and even dedicated an entire encyclical to the “Joy of the Gospel.” He wrote in the opening paragraph about what should fill the hearts of every Christian.
The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
However, joy is not always an easy trait to acquire. Even faithful Christians can be tempted to live a life without an ounce of joy. As Pope Francis put it, it is like living always in Lent, but never experiencing the joy of Easter.
There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.
I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress.
In the end, if you see your priest wearing “pink,” remember the call to live joyfully. We are not meant to live our lives in a perpetual Lent, but to experience the great joy of Easter and to spread that joy to all those we meet.
May our practice of Christianity be a beacon of joy in a world so often brought down by the many sufferings of our mortal life.