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Hope

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.

Blessings,

Fr. William Holtzinger
Pastor

Sport: A Classroom of the Christian Virtues

Sport: A Classroom of the Christian Virtues

Dear Parishioners,

Last week at the end of the announcements at the 11 AM Mass, I made known my hope regarding this year’s Super Bowl. I exclaimed, “Go Falcons!”  Instantaneously, I received back some cheers and laughter.  After exiting the Church and then encountering the community as they were leaving, I was greeted with a multiplicity of cheers and laughter as well as some who exclaimed, “Go Pats!”  It was all in fun and while differing in views with regard to the team for which would be rooting, it was a win all around. In those moments last Sunday, we exemplified what Pope Francis had encouraged us to be and do. That’s right. The Pope recorded a short video message for people who were going to experience the Super Bowl.  Here’s what he said:

Great sporting events like today’s Super Bowl are highly symbolic, showing that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace. By participating in sport, we are able to go beyond our own self-interest - and in a healthy way - we learn to sacrifice, to grow in fidelity and respect the rules. May this year’s Super Bowl be a sign of peace, friendship and solidarity for the world. - Pope Francis, February 5, 2017

Overall, the game turned out to demonstrate all of these signs. Moreover, it was filled with displays of the classical Seven Christian Virtues: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #1805), Faith, Hope, and Charity (ibid. #1813). Mastering them makes one an excellent athlete, and more so, an excellent example of a Christian. In fact, it would be a very productive conversation to discuss each of these virtues in light of the game and to hone one’s vision about these virtues, not only in watching or participating in sport, but striving to live them out in our own lives.

Sport has been a very effective vehicle to battle injustice. A powerful example of this was dramatized in the Clint Eastwood directed movie, “Invictus,” starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman. It depicts how the newly elected Nelson Mandela forgave his oppressors who jailed him due to his opposition to Apartheid and used rugby as a vehicle to unify South Africa. I highly recommend this movie.  It is rated PG-13, so parents should use their discretion with their children in viewing the movie. Other sport-related movies I have found which exemplify these virtues are“Rudy,” “The Blindside,” “Radio,” “We Are Marshall,” and “Remember the Titans.”  Okay… yes, these are all about football. Did I mention that I liked football?

In sport as in life, the desire is for excellence. And while there were also counter examples of each of these virtues (traditionally call the Cardinal Sins and which we should rightfully reject) in the Super Bowl, St. Paul to the Philippians gives us good advice: 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you. - Phil. 4:8-9

St. Paul was not ignorant of the lessons and examples that sport can offer Christians. He even wrote about life as “running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). He wrote of enduring our trials as “discipline” (Heb. 12:7). Again, the connection of sport with the Christian life is clear.

Personally, I detest poor sportsmanship probably because of my own experience with injustice, greed, and the other Cardinal Sins.  So, when I watch sporting events, I look purposefully for all the Christian Virtues, for I recognize my need to have examples of real people, more than superhero-fiction, who can encourage me and challenge me to greatness, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of being who God call me to be. When we live out who we are called to be, when we live as the saints God desires us to be, we ultimately give glory to God, a purpose greater than sport, indeed, a purpose greater than all other purposes.

Blessings,

Fr. William Holtzinger
Pastor

p.s. Congratulations to the New England Patriots!