Friday 2 November 2012

Black is black, I want my vestments back!

Black is back!

A couple of weeks ago in one of the comments (anonymous) the readers of this blog were referred to as "mostly right-wingers".  I've been meaning to take the person to task, as being described as "right-wing" or even "traditional" is one of my bug-bears.  One of the speakers at the Confraternity Conference in Reading (I think it was Archbishop De Noia) also mentioned that he took great exception to secular tags being applied to faith matters.  I consider myself neither left nor right wing when  it comes to the Church, neither conservative nor liberal, neither traditional nor liberal but simply ORTHODOX.  There is nothing right-wing nor conservative about being faithful to Our Lord and the Church he founded.  It is not traditional to hold fast to the constant teaching of the Church on female 'ordiantion', or same sex 'marriage' - either you hold the teaching of the Church or you don't.  There are not two different versions of the Faith - a traditional one and a progressive one - there is just THE Faith.  Within that Faith there are certainly different interpretations on things that the Church allows us to hold differing views on.  The trouble is that very many people today appear to hold different views on some quite essential matters that have been defined and taught by the Church where She does not envisage any differing viewpoints; where what is to be held fast is written down for all to see in black and white (or black and red, rubrically speaking).

The wonderful feast of All Souls brings a liturgical point to mind in this matter.  There is an excellent post in relation to this on the New Theological Movement Site.  It is considered - by some - very old-fashioned, right-wing, traditional, call it what you will, to wear black vestments for Requiem Masses - be it All Souls Day or funerals and yet the rubrics indicate that black, along with violet or white on occasion (presumably in certain Asian and African countries where white is the traditional colour of mourning) are all permissible.  I recall on more than one occasion visiting priests to parish funerals refusing to wear black vestments. I wonder what opprobrium would come my way if I turned up at a diocesan funeral and refused to wear white or violet - the point is, I have never done that because these other colours are allowed (although in the case of white this might be another one of those instances where local custom for some foreign clime has been taken as carte blanche to do it everywhere see Fr Ray Blake's post).

So for All Souls - for both forms of the Roman Rite - I will be wearing black.

I don't know who wrote the English version of the General Introduction for the Order of Christian Funerals but it certainly has a bias.  Number 39 says, " Black is used as a token of mourning but in our society, increasingly, without the associations of Christian hope."  Mourning and, therefore, praying for the dead is not to my mind, "without Christian hope".  In fact the all-purveying attitude of "celebrating" the life of the deceased instead of praying for the forgiveness of their sins is what is really without the association of Christian hope.  For a prime example of why this should not happen under any circumstances, witness the near beatification of Jimmy Saville, complete with golden casket, and the assurance that we "can be confident that Jimmy is now with God".  We should not blame the poor priest who said those words, he was simply doing what happens at nearly every funeral that I attend, read or hear about.

In fact, the Order of Christian Funerals from the 1980's - prepared by the Liturgy Office of the Bishop's Conference of England and Wales and ICEL is lacking in many areas.  There are particular prayers for all sorts of classes of person - from a deceased non-Christian married to a Catholic to those who died as catechumens - but no specific texts for the majority of funerals that most priests have to carry out - funerals for those who are lapsed from the practice of the Faith, often who have abandoned any outward sign of the Faith for many, many years.  I don't have many funerals in my present little parish but when I was in Wigan for nine years as parish priest it was not unusual to have two or three a week.  What I noticed was that the prayers all presume a fervent. practising Catholic - albeit, recognising the pervasive presence of sin even in the lives of those described in many of the prayers as God's "servants", our brother / sister who ate the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life - except they hadn't since being at school. So, are we to "celebrate" these lives that have, to all intents and purposes seemingly abandoned the Faith that would save sinners or mourn for them properly and pray for their souls?

Black signifies mourning, but not simply mourning in general. 
Rather, black directs us in a particular way to mourn and pray for the dead.


GOR said...

eldoctAExactly Father, and something I have been banging on about for some time. Lets get back to ‘prayers for the repose of the soul of…’ and less ‘celebrating the life of…’ the deceased at funerals. Black vestments brought that home to us more so than white.

Yes, we mourn - but with prayer and Hope. Forget the flowers and wreaths. They do nothing for the deceased, but merely cater to the living. But prayers and good works do help the souls in Purgatory – and one day we may need them ourselves!

We have taken the ”Nil de mortuis, nisi bonum” to extremes by ‘canonizing’ all and sundry. And we do the deceased no favors with that!

While November is the ‘Month of the Holy Souls’ we should be praying for them year round. Granted, we do so at every Mass, but how many people really advert to that? We need more emphasis on the Communion of Saints, the reality of sin and the need for reparation.

We can make reparation now or we’ll have to do it later - which means Purgatory, where we can no longer merit by ourselves but will depend on the charity of others.

Sixupman said...


I attended Mass this morning and to my surprise could find little if anything penitential in the rite. [I do not blame the well respected parish priest.]

This evening, I will be at a Solemn Requiem [to Durufle] to balance matters out.

Trisagion said...

The comment at the colloquium was made by Bishop Egan, who called the language of left and right within the Church "quite literally diabolical".

As I said the Office from the 1960 Breviary Romanum this morning, I was struck by how subtle the balance between mourning, commending the departed to God's mercy and trusting in the hope of the resurrection was. Frankly, it was a great deal more balanced, nuanced, than the modern equivalent, which ever seems to me to assume too much regarding the particular individual and reek of presumption in general.

David O'Neill said...

Whilst I can see where you are coming from re 'left' & 'right' I feel the need to distinguish between those who are 'Orthodox' (in my book 'trad' or 'right') & those who claim to be Orthodox but clearly have problems with the EF of Mass, even though our Holy Father has clearly stated its equality with the OF.
On the subject of 'tradition' I was surprised to see your server wearing a lace edged cotta at a Requiem.

Anonymous said...

Well said Father. I was recently at a funeral in The London Oratory where the Priest wore black. It was good to see. I think its the first time I have ever come across it.

J said...

On All Souls day, I was very pleased to see the altar at Westminster Cathedral covered with a black frontal, and the lectern with a black fall.

Anonymous said...

I thought that the Pope wore red for requiem Masses.

Are you sure that the vestment in the picture isn't dark green or dark purple.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Pope in black vestments for a Requiem - how very Paul VI. Let's hope the 'brick by brick' approach works and he wears the traditonal colour next year.

Fr Edward said...

The Pope never wears black for funerals!
Red is the color for Papal useage, or for a Pope.

The Rev. M. Forbes said...

I say, does the Pope not keep the maxim of InnocentIII that Pontifex Fleat in Rubro? Does this only count for Good Friday and Papal Funerals?


Mater mari said...

I heartily agree Father. But we have a son in his 40s, baptised as a baby, who has profound and multiple learning disabilities and is incapable of personal sin. Whilst my husband and I have requested black vestments for our funerals we would certainly expect that our son would have white ones at his, perhaps with an explanation from the priest as to why this was so. I believe the same would apply in the case of a baby or young child who died before the age of reason.

Fr Simon Henry said...

I was surprised to find a photo of the Holy Father in seemingly black vestments, which is why I published the photo without a direct comment. However, my limited reading on the subject suggests that while a pope is always buried in red vestments, the tradition of his requiem being in red and not black is recent - dating from Pope Paul VI and that before that, black vestments were worn at the Papal funeral and also by a pope when celebrating a Requiem Mass (for other than cardinals?, for example,, om ll Souls Day. I can't find out much about it so anyone with more knowledge would be welcome to throw light on the subject.
Of course, the picture was just to draw attention and the real point was directed at the generality of Requiem Masses for those of us less exalted than the Pope.

Sixupman said...

The Requiem at The Holy Name was magnificent - it should have been recorded and the music beyond professional, indeed sublime.

Will it all now end?