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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Why Blue at Advent?

After worship this Advent, I keep getting asked, "Why blue?"

No, people aren't asking me why I am sad. They are asking why this year, the paraments, the liturgical cloths that decorate the pulpit, table, and font in worship, are a deep blue for Advent, instead of purple.

Perhaps we don't realize, liturgical colors are a fairly recent addition to Presbyterian worship. Our denominational website describes the use of liturgical colors this way:

"For the first thousand years of the church’s history, little thought was given to liturgical color... The 12th through 16th centuries brought localized experiments with liturgical color, but no standard practices prevailed until 1570, when the Roman Catholic Church established a normative sequence of colors to accompany the church calendar. Calvinists in the sixteenth century eschewed these rubrics, however, preferring black vestments. The past two centuries have seen a resurgence in the use of liturgical colors (in non-Catholic churches), propelled by a new appreciation for the aesthetic dimensions of worship..."

Presbyterian Churches just began adding liturgical colors back to worship since World War II, and it only became popular in the 1960s and 70s.

The colors are meant to help us keep time, and remind us where we are in the Christian year, and help us feel the significance of special Sundays along the way. From that same denominational website, here is a typical schedule for the use of liturgical colors:

  • Advent: purple or blue

  • Christmas (12 days) to Epiphany (Jan. 6): white and gold

  • Ordinary Time (Jan. 7 through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday): green, with the exception of Baptism of the Lord and Transfiguration of the Lord, both white

  • Ash Wednesday through the first five weeks of Lent: purple

  • Palm / Passion Sunday: red and/or purple

  • Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week: purple

  • Maundy Thursday: purple (until the church is stripped bare)

  • Good Friday: no color; church remains stripped bare

  • Easter Season (including Ascension of the Lord): white and gold

  • Day of Pentecost: red

  • Ordinary Time (Monday after Pentecost through Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent): green, with the exception of Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day (or first Sunday in November), and Christ the King, all white

Beside the calendar symbolism, colors can appear for non-calendar reasons. White is usually used for funerals. Red is often used for ordinations, installations, church dedications, and anniversaries. reminds us this about seasons and colors:

"... There is not one, universally-recognized version of the Christian year. In fact, you’ll find variation in timing and practices, sometimes even within one denomination or tradition. For example, many Presbyterian churches use purple as a primary Advent color, while other Presbyterian churches use royal blue, and other Presbyterian churches decorate their worship spaces with secular Christmas colors of red and green... None of these choices is necessarily wrong or right, though, as you may guess, I would encourage any church to recognize Advent and be enriched by its themes. Color schemes are clearly secondary in importance."

Still, why Blue at PCC this year? In many older peoples' memories, if their churches used colors with seasons, Lent and Advent were both purple. Why change?

Well, many churches (like ours) enjoy having meaningful symbolic colors for season of church, like Advent. We also want to avoid the bright red/green of the commercial Christmas culture. And, we love the regal, penitent purple for Lent, but wonder if a different color could better express the expectant, hopeful, anticipatory attitude of Advent.

As one Presbyterian pastor and church described in 2015:

"Blue represents hope and expectation, while the purple represents preparation and penitence. Deep blue is the color of the predawn sky, the color that covers the world in the dark, cold hours before the dawn. It is meant to inspire us in the hope of faith, and to encourage us to keep watch for the promised light of Christ, changing night into day, and darkness into light. As the color associated with Mary, blue reminds us that during Advent the church waits with Mary for the birth of Jesus."

This year, the Worship Arts Decor team decided to continue using purple for Lent, and try blue for Advent. A centerpiece of the design is a wonderful quilt gifted to the church by Peggy Fulton after the death of her son Tom.

I do hope your hearts and minds will be open to the beautiful symbol of pre-dawn blue as we look over the horizon for the dawning of God's presence in the world as a babe born in a manger.

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