Q1: During his visit to Austria in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wore a blue chasuble and stole as well as a blue miter. Does this mean that blue vestments may now be used for feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary? -- C.J., Anaheim, California
Q2: Attending Mass at our parish church on the feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, I saw that our parish priest was proudly wearing his new blue stole that he had received as a gift from the local community. In our region, this feast is primarily considered as a feast of Our Lady, hence the color. As far as I know, blue is not officially allowed in our diocese, but is tolerated. Contrary, there is no matching deacon stole available, so the deacon was wearing a white stole. Is it acceptable that both priest and deacon wear stoles of different colors and how should such "conflicts" be handled? -- F.H., Houthulst, Flanders, Belgium
A: Since both of these questions are intimately related, I will attempt to address them together.
Blue is not one of the standard liturgical colors and it may only be used in virtue of a special privilege. By blue vestments we mean those manufactured from cerulean fabric. White vestments with blue motifs or trimmings are not subject to any restriction.
The privilege of using blue vestments in the Latin rite is of two kinds. One kind is that granted to some important Marian shrines. This was the case of Pope Benedict's Mass which was held at Austria's foremost center of devotion to Mary. The decree granting the privilege determines whether these vestments may be used habitually or only on certain major feasts.
The other privilege is that granted to whole countries. For example, all Spanish churches may adopt blue vestments on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and this favor is sometimes also extended to countries once ruled by the Spanish crown.
Apart from these exceptions blue may not be used as a liturgical color, not even on major Marian feasts.
With respect to the blue stole in Belgium, I am unaware if this country retains the privilege, although it is possible as Flanders was once ruled by Philip II of Spain.
Since blue vestments are uncommon, even when they are permitted, it is possible that a parish has only one set. In this case I would say that it is possible for the deacon to don only white vestments. The situation is analogous to cases where only the principal concelebrant wears vestments of the color of the feast or season, while the others don white stoles and chasubles.
All that we have said refers exclusively to the Latin rite. Blue vestments are quite common on Marian feasts in some Eastern Churches, especially those of the Byzantine tradition.
* * *
Follow-up: Candles at the Gospel Reading
After our reply regarding the Easter candle (see April 27), a couple of similar questions came to mind.
A reader from Hawarden, North Wales, asked: "I wonder if you can help. Some eccentric, but at least semiofficial, instruction came our way some years ago, that after the feast of the Ascension the paschal candle was to be extinguished but left in the sanctuary until after Pentecost Sunday (when, naturally it was to retire to the baptistry). Is it obligatory to have it unlit during the great novena to the Holy Spirit?"
In our column of April 3, 2007, we gave a brief history of the Easter candle. In that column we mentioned that effectively there was a long-standing custom of removing the Easter candle after the Ascension. A rubric introduced by St. Pius V for that day indicated that the candle should be quenched after the Gospel of the principal Mass.
This rubric, still in force in the extraordinary form, is probably the inspiration for the semiofficial indication received by our reader.
Present norms, however, foresee the habitual use of the paschal candle for the entire Easter season until the final Mass of Pentecost, after which it is brought to the baptistry.
Another correspondent, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, presented the following case: Our liturgy coordinator is insisting that the Easter candle be lit at all Masses during the month of November. Is this permissible, since it is outside of the Easter season?"
I would imagine that the coordinator's logic derives from the fact that in many places the entire month of November is dedicated to special Masses and prayers for the deceased. Since the Easter candle is used at funerals, then it would appear coherent to use it during this time also.
However, the use of the Easter candle near the coffin at funerals has a precise ritual meaning with respect to bodily resurrection that is not found in Masses in suffrage for the departed. Otherwise, the candle would be used almost every day, as most Masses are celebrated for the benefit of some deceased person.
Even if the November Masses use the specific formulas of Masses for the dead and violet vestments, they would not be funeral Masses as such and so the paschal candle is not used.
Although I am unaware of the practice elsewhere, it is always possible that this use of the Easter candle is a long-standing custom of a particular church. Liturgically speaking, however, it is somewhat anomalous and I do not think it is a correct use of the Easter candle's symbolic meaning.
* * *
Readers may send questions to email@example.com. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.