Blue or Purple for Advent?

If you grew up in a liturgical context, you probably noticed that the liturgical colors associated with Advent are both blue and purple. This may strike us as odd because no other church season has multiple color options. So, what gives?

Up until the Reformation, there was little homogeneity in Eucharistic liturgical practice. Yet, as the diocese of Rome and its bishop grew in influence, so too did the Roman Rite (the way they did things in Rome). One such example was Advent.

Advent has always had two purposes. The first purpose is to recall Christ’s first coming by waiting for Him in faith and for His second coming. While much of Christ’s work has already happened — His incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension — Christ’s Advent is the part of our faith that is yet to come!

So, Advent’s first purpose is about waiting for Christ and having faith that He will return. The second purpose of Advent is that in this season of waiting we repent, not counting the Lord’s delay as slowness, but as His patience towards us; not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (II Peter 3:9). In the Roman church, this second purpose took on a larger emphasis. Given that purple is the color of penitence, it became the color of Advent, for much of the Church Catholic in Europe before the Reformation.

However, in the English church, the Sarum Rite called for Sarum Blue during Advent, in part because this is what they had been doing for centuries before Rome’s influence increased. In addition, in the English church, the first purpose of Advent (i.e., waiting in faith for Christ’s return) was more emphasized than the second (i.e., repentance before Christ’s return).

During the Reformation, while the Roman Catholic church emphasized more liturgical uniformity, including colors and forms, purple became the color for Advent amongst Roman Catholics, while Blue became the color for Protestant traditions.

In our tradition, the return to Sarum Blue is simultaneously a return to an older form of Catholic Christianity — English Catholicism, so to speak, while also maintaining bonds of unity with our Protestant/Reformed kinsfolk (e.g.: Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.). Thus, today, in the Anglican Communion, Sarum Blue for Advent is popular amongst the more Protestant/Reformed (e.g., St. Martin’s), and the more Anglo-Catholic of our kin (e.g., Episcopal Church of the Advent, Boston). Surprisingly, Purple for Advent has become the via media! Who would have thought?

All this to say — as we enter the season of Advent let the Blue remind us of the first purpose of Advent, waiting in faith for Christ to return, while not forgetting Advent’s second purpose: leading lives of repentance.

A Prayer
Hasten, O Father, the coming of thy kingdom; and grant that we thy servants, who now live by faith, may with joy behold thy Son at his coming in glorious majesty; even Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
The Rev. John D. Sundara
Vicar for Worship and Evangelism
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