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Q & A: "Black Vestments?"

Q & A: "Black Vestments?"

Q: Fr. Bill, you wore black vestments at the All Souls Day Mass.  I thought black vestments were pretty much abandoned after Vatican II.  What is their status?  Do you wear them when you preside at funerals?

A: Good question!  The short answer is, no, black was not abandoned. However, the preferred option for funerals is first, white, then purple and black as options. It is true that black has fallen out of popular favor so much so that it may appear that it was forbidden. But, that is just perception.

Before I discuss this further, I must share the meanings by these three liturgical colors: White expresses hope in resurrection, holiness, hope, and baptism. Violet expresses reconciliation, repentance, and mercy.  Black signifies mourning, death, sin, and judgement. This latter color may seem to focus on the negative, but, these are realities in our lives which sometimes we need to be reminded about.

The official three color choices for All Souls Day are the same as they are for any funeral. According to the instructions to the Order of Christian Funerals (a.k.a. OCF): 

“The liturgical color chosen for funerals should express Christian hope but should not be offensive to human grief and sorrow.  In the United States, white, violet, or black vestments may be worn at the funeral rites and at other offices and Masses or the dead” (§39). 

I have worn white vestments at funerals in all the parishes where I have been assigned. It has been my pastoral judgement that white has helped the congregation remember that through the waters of baptism, their loved one has died with Christ and that we hold the hope close that their loved one will rise again with him (cf. OCF §160). In the initial rites of the funeral, we place a pall over the casket which I have only seen in white, though violet and black are still options. Therefore, I have made efforts to make sure that the vestments match and carry on a congruent sign conferred by the pall. The white pall symbolizes the white garment placed on a newborn baby who has just been baptized.

That being said, I concelebrated a funeral with Archbishop Sample on the sad occasion of the tragic death of a young adult from the Umpqua Community College shootings back in 2015. There, the priests concelebrants were told to wear violet vestments. In the archbishop’s pastoral judgement, he was giving attention to the guidance by the OCF, where it states:

“The celebration of the Christian funeral brings hope and consolation to the living. While proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and witnessing to Christian hope in the resurrection, the funeral rites also recall to all who take part in them God’s mercy and judgment and meet the human need to turn always to God in times of crisis” (§7).

So, not only is hope something that is needed at a funeral, but so too is our need to seek out God’s mercy. The tragic nature of some events draw us close to this opportunity of God’s consolation which brings us to repentance and a desire for mercy in our own lives.

Back to All Souls Day. I made a pastoral decision to wear black for many reasons, some theological, some psychological, some liturgical, and some even pragmatic.  I wanted us to be mindful of the reality of Purgatory and the journey that many of the deceased whom we are praying for may be very well experiencing it and need our prayers. Additionally, I wanted us to recognize our own emotional sensibilities to the reality of their deaths and the loss their deaths have played in our lives. Mourning, while not something we like to do, is deeply important to our healing.  When we don’t mourn our losses, we continually carry them with us, and occasionally they come out in some of the most inappropriate ways and situations. Black emotes these feelings of sadness, recognizing and legitimizing them in our lives. When I bought my black chasuble, I purposely chose one that also had violet in it which, I hope, helped us remember our need to repent of our own sins in view of our own coming death and look to God for our only hope. Liturgically speaking, black carries well all these reasons and we hardly ever, if at all, see this color option used in the Mass. It has occurred to me many times that we should not completely forget or abandon our liturgical heritage, and that finding appropriate places to harken back to our sacred tradition keeps us grounded and mindful of who we are as Catholics. I’ve purposely done this in other areas too. You might have noticed that over all, the priests chant more of the Mass than in decades previous. The new Roman Missal has been the driving force for that change.  I’ve heard many times soon after receiving the Missal that we were chanting more.  Simply, it is was one of the various things the reform of the missal called for.  You might also notice that during Lent, as a community we chant the Mass parts during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and at some solemnities we use incense and bells.  Finally, on the pragmatic side of things, until last year, I have never worn a back vestment. But, after seeing this particular chasuble at a bargain price, I thought I would buy it for the few times I might want to use it, All Souls Day being the case use I had in mind. 

Finally, thank you for the question and I hope this helps more of us expand our understanding of the wealth of our Catholic theology and tradition.


Fr. William Holtzinger

Parish Offertory Program 2015

Dear Parishioners,

Today now more than ever we need to be sharing the Good News to a world that is evermore in need.  The Good News, of course, is that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and is risen for us.  He has set us free from the bondage of sin and opened the gates of heaven for his faithful.  Having received this Good News, we are called to bear it and preach it with our very lives.  This Kerygma (think: proclamation) is one of the main purposes for our lives.  We are not to keep it to ourselves.

This past weekend, Fr. Nguyen and I spoke about our Parish Offertory Program.  Each year, we set aside time to ponder on how we can proclaim and live out this Good News.  It challenges us to deeply know this immense gift, and respond in gratitude.  This is where the term, Stewardship, is of great help.  To be a steward is to be one who tends rather than owns.  It is a response of gratitude for all that we have been given. If we think about it, all that we have, all that we are is a gift from God.  Our response of gratitude is how we proclaim or live out the Kerygma.

Stewardship, therefore, is the tending of the gifts of time, talent, treasure, and tradition which we have all been given.  What gifts have you been given and how are you sharing them?  What abilities have you been given which can be used to share the love of Jesus? What financial gifts have you been blessed with which can be used to further the mission (again think, Kerygma) of the Church, and specifically St. Anne’s?  

Each year, I ask us all to ponder on these things and be prepared to make an annual commitment of stewardship to your parish community.  That means you may want to try something new by getting involved in a different ministry.  It may be the call to change your financial giving by examining if you are simply offering a tip like being at a restaurant or are making a faith-filled sacrifice based on a percentage of your income.  The things we value we invest in.  So, we should consider the Church to be of great importance and examine truly the value we place on our parish church. Regarding tradition, ask yourself how you are sharing the beauty of the traditions which have been handed on to you?  Maybe that might mean inviting a neighbor to join you to go to Mass or a bible study, or the the Altar Society, or the Funeral Reception Committee.  There’s just so many ways to share our amazing traditions.

The Good News of Jesus Christ has transformed the world for two millennia, and we have been entrusted to share and participate in the ministries which are present at St. Anne’s in order to proclaim (Kerygma) it.  So, this week you will receive a brochure which will detail some more ideas about our Parish Offertory Program.  Read it and review the sample Commitment Card which is at the back of the brochure.  Next week, I will be leading us all, during the homily time, to make a new or renewed commitment to St. Anne’s and our ministries.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to talk with me, Fr. Nguyen, or Stephen Voehl, our business manager.


Fr. William Holtzinger


Tragedy, Grief, And The Lord

Dear Parishioners,

The past several weeks we have experienced more than our share of tragedies and funerals in our faith communities.  It is in these times that sorrow befalls upon us and tempts us to despair and hopelessness. But, do not give in to this darkness.  Let the light of Christ pierce the darkness with a light of hope that only God can give!   Know with the fullness of your being that God is at work, and his divine power and genius is more than capable of turning darkness and tragedy into light and triumph!

I am reminded of one of my favorite Scripture verses which is constantly opened to in my office.  The verses come from the Book of Lamentations and are the words of a faithful, yet suffering individual.  The whole book is one big lament, yet almost exactly in the middle of the short book, a piercing ray of hope is uttered about the truth of God:

"My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the Lord...
But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope:
The Lord ’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness!
"The Lord is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him.
The Lord is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him;
It is good to hope in silence for the Lord ’s deliverance.
(Lam 3:17, 21-26)

Yes!  The mercies of the Lord are not exhausted by the grief and sadness that befalls us.  The word "mercy" translated in the New American Bible comes from the Hebrew word, Hesed which signifies an unchanging, constant devotion, a loving kindness that forgives with a divine mercy.  Even when one our youngest members tragically dies in an accident, as happened this past week, God is active, alive, and ready to catch us when we fall.  

It is for these things and more that our Lord suffered so much.  It is for these things that Jesus desired to die so that we would not have to die eternally.  Our God is mighty to save and full of compassion.  So, do not be afraid when tragedy strikes, when loss is so great that you do not know what to do.  Simply lean on our Lord.  Shout out to him who listens with perfect understanding. Share the entirety of your grief.  Even your anger... let him know of it.  Just remember, he loves you.  He suffers with you.  You don't need to be anything other than yourself when you approach him.  You don't have to have the "right " words.  Just give him your broken heart.  And by his amazing grace, he will triumph over the darkness so that you can rejoice with him.  

So, let God sit with you in your grief.  Let him turn your sadness into joy.  Listen to the Lord while he speaks his words of love to you. Yes, he loves you even when you are lost.  Let him be your way, truth, and life.  May all glory and praise be to our God who is our Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!


Fr. William Holtzinger