Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gaudete Sunday and that Pesky Pink Candle

I've spent most of my advent career arguing with ushers about the pink candle on the Advent wreath. 

 It has been my joy and pleasure to have been the only pastor who ever told them that we light the pink candle on the THIRD, not the fourth Sunday in Advent.  Or so they tell me. All the while knowing I would undoubtedly be followed by a pastor who didn't give a flying fig what candle they lit.

I thought I had made progress and settled into the pew to enjoy the Children's Christmas Program which was all about decorating the church for Christmas.  Imagine my dismay as a little 9 year old girl reads from her script about how the pink candle is lit on the fourth Sunday in Advent.   

Originally Advent was a time of fasting and preparation, similar to Lent and purple in color like Lent.  

The Third Sunday, with its readings emphasizing joy, became a break in the fast.  "Gaudete" meaning "Rejoice" was the first word of the introit for the Mass that day. Rose colored vestments were used for that day and still are in the Catholic church and some Lutheran churches that still have some regard for tradition.

I can't find any reference to it online or where I read it but I swear I read somewhere that when we moved from purple to blue, we made the whole rose colored "Gaudete Sunday" irrelevant.  

The change to blue for Advent signified a change in mood for somber repentance to subdued hope.  

Nobody got that memo though and once when we needed to order new candles for the advent wreath I tried to avoid the whole pink candle conundrum by ordering 4 blue candles.  That was not an option at Augsburg-Fortress.  

I wonder how much of our congregational liturgical practice is really dictated to us by our publishing house?

Silly me to think that being part of a liturgical tradition means we actually FOLLOW liturgical traditions, not make up our own or do whatever we please.  I don't know why it matters to me, but it does. 

Ah well.  It will still be Christmas.  The baby will be born.  The angels will sing.  The shepherds will rise up and follow.  

And all will be well. 


  1. Oh, oh, oh... The church I now attend does 4 blue candles, and I think most do not even know we used to use purple and pink. I do love the liturgy and the traditions. I know Episcopalians who still do the whole Gaudete Sunday rose with all the trimmings.
    And yes, Christ has/is/will come, no matter what color we use. :-)

  2. Hmm. The Augsburg Fortress website lists a number of options, including four blue candles, and that's what I remember from my days in Customer Service there. Maybe they were out of stock when you called?

    Anyway, "Gaudete Sunday" is still very much alive in the lessons for the third Sunday in Advent, I'd just say forget about a pink candle and do all white (or blue/purple to match the paraments, if you desire).

  3. Anglican tradition is still very much purple for Advent and, if you have a pink candle (many churches still have four red ones with a white one in the middle for Christmas Day), it is lit on the fourth Sunday. I'd not heard of blue for Advent before!

  4. this was several years ago and it was not an option to buy 4 blue advent candles. Maybe they've had more requests since then. I do think white is the way to go.

  5. Oh now that is interesting I've found an older tradition that has changed to the 4th Sunday.

  6. The longer I live, the less I like blue. It is emblematic of two different, and related, trends: (1) the watering down of liturgical customs, such as the penitential character of Advent; and (2) the use of dubious authorities to do so, in this case Sarum and some supposed Scandivavian diocese which nobody -- including Frank Senn -- seems able to name.

    This isn't really about candles, so much as vestments. But once you make the false jump from "it's not church-dividing" to "it doesn't matter," you're on a slippery slope that winds up with every parish, and every pastor, doing whatever they like and calling it traditional.

  7. Honestly most congregations went to blue because they thought it was prettier.

  8. Another factor is undoubtedly the advent (no pun intended) of paraments, and to some extent the matching vestments, that are not just colored and tasseled, but decorated with symbols related to the season. If purple paraments and vestments were simply purple fabric with gold fringe (or maybe something like a trifold and triangle or two), they can work for either season. But when purple paraments are obtained that include symbols such as crowns of thorns and nails which point to the passion Lent prepares for, they don't really work for Advent any longer. It is then natural that advent paraments and vestments might develop with candles or other symbols related to this season. With distinctions so being made, a distinction in color follows fairly easily.

    Besides, it seems that the tradition of colors has varied over time, with our current system of relatively recent origins. I'm not sure that shifting practice in liturgical colors really needs to be of great concern, as long as there is some reasonable connection between color and season and done with care (rather than just whims of fashion: "Let's see, I think I want to wear my chartreuse stole today.").

  9. Yeah, once people recognize that this stuff is pretty much irrelevant, there's no telling what they might do. They might start to worship in numbers and percentages similar to those of Germany and Scandinavia and the Baltic and Christmas and funerals would be the only time you'd get to see 90% of the people who supposedly believe this.

  10. My dear Nixon, I was just wondering what had happend to you. You have a very, merry...whatever!

  11. The congregation I am currently serving uses 3 white candles, with one blue one for 3 Advent. It makes no sense, but they are the plastic, oil-filled candles, so there is no way to get rid of them. Also, the wreath screws into the Paschal candle stand. I had to unscrew the Paschal candle from the middle of the wreath on 1 Advent! Then there was a death - and no way to light the Paschal candle because the stand is in use for the wreath. I wish church supply houses would stop promoting the Paschal candle/advent wreath combo.