By The Rev. Carlton Kelly
(Part II of II: continued from 10/21/2016)
Another visual reminder of the uniqueness of Christian liturgical worship is the use of vestments for those who lead our liturgies. It is in these vestments that the colors of the liturgical year are most obvious. The foundational vestment for all clergy and laity is the Alb- from the Latin for white. Its color signifies the holiness of Jesus Christ we put on at our baptism. Deacons, priests and bishops also wear a stole as a sign of ordained authority though how they are worn varies with the Order. Deacons wear the T shaped Dalmatic, so called because it is believed to have originated in the region of Dalmatia; Priests and Bishops wear the long circular vestment, the Chasuble when celebrating the Eucharist, whose name means “little tent;” bishops and certain abbots of monasteries may add the Miter whose shape is thought to recall the flames of Pentecost though its shape in the East resembles a crown. The Cope is the long and full garment open in the front that is most regularly seen on bishops though any order of ministry may wear this in the Anglican Communion. It originated as a rain cloak in ancient times. One of the most common of vestments is the surplice whose name means “over fur” and is a white garment of varying lengths worn over one’s cassock. In the West and East, the shapes of these garments have varied widely over time. What is most importance about our use of vestments is that they give glory to God by and with their beauty. Indeed, vestments have been called “superfluously beautiful” because God is beauty beyond beauty. This is why great care is taken with our worship and those things which give it meaning. The holy is never to be taken for granted!
The common sequence of colors is 1) Green for Ordinary or Common Time – those days that have no specific commemoration; 2) Red for the feast of Martyrs, the Holy Spirit and Holy Week; 3) White (or silver and gold or an exuberant combination of colors) for major feasts of our Lord such as Easter; 4) Blue (or purple) for Advent and 5) Purple (or ‘Lenten array’ of beige, black and dark red or other somber colors) for Lent. Black has been regaining popularity in recent years for All Souls’ Day, days of penitence and fasting, Good Friday, and funerals. A very effective combination of colors for funerals is black and green which can by understood by the phrase “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a grain.”(John 12:24) Perhaps the most beautiful set of vestments I have ever seen was of black and green. This fact emphasizes that it is not so much the color that is important but the beauty of the vestments that give glory to God. The color sequence was established in the West at a relatively late date and has varied widely in the East. Today many churches are experimenting with a ride range of colors. Yet, it seems a wise thing to practice consistency in their use.
And now, a word about our use of ALLELUIA.
This word and its Hebrew equivalent, Hallelujah, means “Praise God.” Its function in the liturgies of the church has come to be almost a giving of superior praise, as it were, to God. It is, therefore, reserved for the most joyous occasions. This is not to say that the well lived Christian life should not be full of joy in the Lord. However, our liturgies teach us about a pattern of life and a response to God.
Each liturgical season has its own inner theological logic which the authors of our Prayer Book took great pains to represent in the directions or rubrics (from the Latin word for red, the color in which these directions are printed) in order that each season of the year might be fully appreciated for what it is teaching us about our Lord’s life and the Church. The two seasons in which this is most obvious are Lent and Easter. In Lent, we do not use alleluia even on Sundays though we understand every Sunday to be a feast of the Resurrection. Thus, Sundays are in Lent, not of Lent which is a subtle way of saying they are not counted in determining the number of days in Lent. In Lent our focus is on the repentance of sins and the death they bring which will, liturgically speaking, be finally dealt with in our Lord’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. It is then that we will give full voice to ALLELUIA because everything, literally everything, has been changed by these mighty acts of God.
Easter itself, the Feast of the Resurrection, has been long called the “Queen of Feasts” recognizing its supreme importance in the church year. By extension, the Easter season continues this importance. Thus, the words we use shape what we understand Easter to be. While seasons other than Lent share in this joy, they do so to a lesser extent. Please recall that even at Christmas, a rather late addition to the liturgical calendar, our liturgical joy is not as intense. This also recognizes the reality that our Christian life, on the ground, as it were, is most usually perfected in the mundane and the commonplace and not in the exalted and joyous. If we were always to rejoice, the work of our lives would never be done! Of course, in heaven, that is an entirely different matter!!
A very wise priest, mentor and friend once told me that anything (well, almost anything) can be justified liturgically. He went on to say that there is no one correct way to do our liturgies, but there are many wrong ways. His thoughts are absolutely correct. There are many “correct” ways to do liturgy. But as I wrote earlier in this piece, every liturgy and season has its own internal logic that, if we ignore, we will not appreciate or be fully formed by all the liturgical year has to offer us in our journey to God. Our liturgical observances and of course our personal prayer are ways we discipline ourselves to permit the Holy Spirit to speak most clearly to us. This is one of the reasons why constant liturgical change, “surprises,” are not spiritually healthy. The worship of God has never been about novelty or entertainment. Indeed, the wise and holy among us have commended boredom as a salutary spiritual state! The repetition we experience Sunday to Sunday is a very good thing because it allows us to live more deeply into the mysteries of faith without being distracted by the always new and novel. Many churches have succumbed to the superfluous nature of entertainment only to realize they have given those they serve nothing of God.
Link to Part I: Ours is a liturgical church…