From the vault: my homily for this Sunday in 2013…
The first thing to know is that this color is not pink.
Twice a year, once during Lent and once during Advent, we wear these vestments and people routinely call them “pink.” Once, David James, the head of our altar servers said to me before Mass, “Deacon, I’ve been meaning to tell you this for years: pink isn’t your color.”
I had to remind him: it’s not pink!
The color, in fact, is called “rose.” It’s a subtle difference, but it has a more subdued shade than pink. Liturgists will tell you it signifies rejoicing, and signals a spirit of joyful hope during Lent and now, during Advent. It breaks the more somber tone of those penitential times of the year. Thinking about that, I would argue other colors convey that, too – for example, why don’t we wear yellow or gold?
Well, I’ll be honest with you: I don’t know.
But I did some Googling and found someone who does. And what I found, I think, puts Advent, and this particular Sunday, into a beautiful context.
This comes from Brother Hyacinth Cordell, a Dominican, who wrote about all this online several years ago. Br. Cordell noted that nature’s cycle is comprised of two things: life and light. The seasons revolve around that—the rejuvenation of spring and summer, the desolation of fall and winter. Our liturgical seasons follow a similar pattern.
“The dark color of violet in Advent,” he wrote, “harmonizes well with the diminishing sunlight late in the year.” It also points to royalty, and Christ as our King.
But what about rose?
Br. Cordell described it this way:
“Rose,” he wrote, “is a softening of violet. It is violet approaching white. In this sense, it anticipates the pure white of the Birth and Resurrection of Christ.”
Think about that, and all that it signifies.
The fact is: we stand before you today, wearing these vestments, bearing witness to what is to come.
Week after week, I proclaim the gospel from this pulpit, reading from a book. But this week, in a sense, I proclaim it not only with words, but also with what you see before you: a color.
Rose: a color that foreshadows the miracle of God’s incarnation, the purity of Emmanuel.
Rose: a color that is named for a delicate and sweet-scented blossom of hope, a symbol of eternal love—the kind of love that would bring into the world, in the most humble of places, and the most unlikely of times, the Son of God.
The reading from Isaiah this Sunday speaks of a flowering in the desert:
“The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song.”
The gospel, too, points to a kind of flowering in the desert—a flowering of prophetic hope in John the Baptist, the forerunner.
For us today, the color rose is a sign of life in a place that is parched—the desert of human existence, our human existence, the very place Christ came to redeem.
These vestments echo that – and I should mention that you also see it here on the altar, where the Advent wreath has one rose-colored candle bringing more light as we draw closer to Christmas, closer to Christ. You may also have noticed the wreaths hanging around the church this Sunday—evergreen reminders of growth and life.
Here and now, the solemnity of Advent gives way to joy. Light breaks through. Everything in this sacred space suddenly bears the color and the promise of new life.
This is what we cling to, and hope for, in the final days of Advent.
The words of a great 15th century carol say it better than I can—reminding us that the color we wear today points to a promise about to be fulfilled.
Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung. This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere…