Requiems: liturgical colour

by
27 January 2017

Your answers

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Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end, or would like to add to the answers below.

 

Your answers
I have been to several priests’ requiems over the past few years, and noted that the liturgical colour varied between black, purple, white, and gold. Is there some reason for this?

 

Of the four colours mentioned by the questioner, black is the most traditional, being the only colour permitted in the Roman Rite until the mass of Paul VI. It is a traditional colour of mourning in the West.

Purple also being a sombre colour in the Roman Rite (used for Lent and for the anointing of the sick, for example), in the interests of sim­plicity (a smaller range of colours) in the mass of Paul VI it became the normal colour for funerals, but with black as an alternative.

Individual bishops’ conferences can also permit white as a colour for funerals, and the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has done so. The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsing­­ham is more specific: white is to be used only if the funeral is that of a baptised child who died before the age of reason (presum­ably because the child has not committed any “actual” sins). There are websites that claim that this is the usage of the Catholic Church more generally, but with what justification I am unsure.

Gold doesn’t appear to be per­mitted for funerals in the Roman Rite, and is surely best reserved for very festive occasions.

Finally, the Church of England “recommends” purple for funerals, but “either black or white may be preferred”, and white “should be used at the Funeral of a child” (Common Worship main volume, pages 532-533). No rationale is given for any of the above choices, and no mention is made of gold.

Why these colours were used is, I assume, a matter of the degree to which the family or officiant wished to express mourning on the one hand and hope on the other. As no. 39 of the General Introduction to the Roman Catholic Order of Funerals says: “The liturgical colour chosen for funerals should express Christian hope in the light of the paschal mystery, but without being offensive to human grief. White expresses the hope of Easter, the fulfilment of baptism, and the wedding garment necessary for the kingdom. Violet recalls the eschatological expectation of Advent and the Lenten preparation for the paschal mystery. Black is used as a token of mourning, but, in our society, increasingly without the associations of Christian hope. The choice should be made in the light of local custom and perceptions, and in consultation with the family and community.”

 

(The Revd Dr) Daniel Trott
London SE19

 

Your questions
With regard to the story of the woman taken in adultery, was stoning rare or standard? If it was standard, wouldn’t divorce be irrelevant, and Matthew 5.32 and 19.9 be unlikely to represent authentic sayings of Jesus?
M. A.

 

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