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white is right

As is not unusual, I have again had email questions about the NZ Anglican lectionary choice of the colour Red as the liturgical colour from after Ascension Day up to and including the Day of Pentecost, and hence including what the lectionary terms the “7th Sunday of Easter”.

Firstly let me reinforce what the lectionary itself says, page 4: “The colours suggested for each day… are not mandatory but reflect common practice in most parishes.” Hence, before proceeding, please complete – which colour was used in your community last Sunday?

The lectionary is stating it is not prescriptive but rather descriptive of the use in “most parishes.” Some issues arise in the correspondence I have received in multi-center parishes, where the travelling priest appears to have to go with a whole wardrobe. Remember, the NZ lectionary regularly provides several, even all four options.

Until 2002, the 7th Sunday of Easter has been white. Suddenly without explanation, the 2003 lectionary changed the 7th Sunday of Easter to red. Ascension Day has remained white. From Friday after Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost has become red. Can someone please explain why? What caused this change to happen in “most parishes” that the lectionary is now reflecting? [If another feast falls within those days, the colour of that feast may be chosen].

It seems to me that the colour for Easter is white, gold, or “best”, and, hence, the colour for the 7th Sunday of Easter is white, gold, or “best”. Certainly all Roman Catholics wore white – so that’s “most parishes” in New Zealand, and disproportionately “most parishes” in the world :-)

The danger in this kind of discussion is to degenerate into liturgical rubrical fundamentalism, or accusations of such, on the one hand. The danger on the other, is the complete abandonment of any common prayer. With the diminishing of unity through common prayer comes the search for other ways to find, create, retain, enforce unity.

I understand that the General Synod Eucharist on Thursday May 13 celebrated not Ascension Day but Ihaia Te Ahu. Ascension Day is a Principal Feast of our church. General Synod makes all episcopal units debate and vote and agree to “Ascension Day…should not be displaced by any other celebration.” Again, the issue is not so much enforcing rules for rules’ sake, but how can we move forward creatively and constructively and unitedly in our life and worship together?

Fascinatingly, on May 13 Roman Catholics also did not celebration Ascension Day! They celebrated Our Lady of Fatima. Now there’s another option…

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18 Responses to white is right

  1. Fractal Angel says:

    Can’t vote in your poll, as we used Gold (which is an option instead of white, I believe).

    My proper church celebrated Ascension Day on Thursday, also using white/gold, but I am in the wrong city to go there right now.

  2. Mariamne says:

    Hi,
    I wish to add that it is possible for Roman Catholics to celebrate Ascension day on the seventh Sunday of Easter, which makes is possible to celebrate on Thursday Our Lady of Fatima (13 of May). But it does not mean this is a world wide practice: in the Netherlands Thursday is as Ascension Day a national holiday, so naturally Roman Catholics will celebrate on it Ascension Day!

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Thanks for your comment, Mariamne. I can understand what you mean, but it also makes me wonder if the state’s organisation of public holidays then determines our celebrations as Christians. Also, I wonder if the state giving a holiday in Portugal means that in Fatima they celebrate Ascension Day or Our Lady of Fatima :-)

  3. Peter Carrell says:

    I have just voted “red” as that was the colour used in the parish I was in on Sunday (to which I took three colours, but I guess the purple is hanging on to the hanger from Lent and was not a serious candidate for usage …)

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Your need to carry three quarters of your wardrobe, Peter, reinforces my point, and that of other clergy finding different centres in their multi-centre parish using different colours! Please can you explain to me why red or green might be “serious candidates for usage” on the Seventh Sunday of Easter. No one has yet offered an explanation.

  4. Kahu Miller says:

    One was wearing white the other red, so I am undecided as to which to vote for…

  5. Peter Carrell says:

    No, no, Bosco. Green was not in my robes bag. Even I am not that ditzy :) The third colour was White. Which would have been all right! I cannot explain Red … perhaps it is “The Assumption that Pentecost is Next Week” :)

    • Bosco Peters says:

      I had misunderstood your reference to the hanger as being what was left behind, Peter. No ditzyness implied – just the acknowledgement that a visiting priest in this province cannot discount any colour, readings, or rite. Maybe another poll could be done on how many people have arrived to preach to find that the reading they are prepared to preach on is not being used. Your suggestion for wearing a colour the week ahead of a feast would mean white for Palm Sunday, for Advent 4, and for the Day of Pentecost, etc. The poll is currently running 4 to 1 in favour of white. If our lectionary is genuinely descriptive about colours as it states on page 4, I look forward to a change next year.

  6. Rev. Nicholas LaMonica says:

    I stand with one of your earlier comments: Ascension is part of the Easter season, the color for which is white. I do not understand the reasoning behind using red for the days between Ascension and Pentecost; perhaps you could shed some light upon this practice (My past background is RC, not Anglican). In my mind, using red all of these days detracts from both the Easter season and from the Solemnity of Pentecost. On the other hand, I don’t mind a more festive color being used for solemnities like Ascension (gold, silver, coronation tapestry or whatever distinctive celebratory vesture one may have).

    Oh, the RC church, in a fit of subsidiarity, permits the local bishop to transfer Ascension to the 7th Sunday of Easter; does the Anglican communion follow that practice?

    • Bosco Peters says:

      I’m with you, Nicholas. I cannot understand why the lectionary suggests that red is “common practice in most parishes” from the day after Ascension Day. The lectionary has Ascension Day as white. As you can see in the comments – no one else can come up with a reason for red. Still waiting… Each province in the Anglican Communion makes its own regulations. In Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia we cannot transfer Ascension Day to the following Sunday. The 7th Sunday of Easter has its own assigned readings (proper), the Ascension can, of course, be mentioned in the sermon, prayers, and hymns.

  7. Tim Hurd says:

    White is to my mind the only theologically consistent option, uness we are imaginging that Easter does not last its full complement of seven weeks.

    My concern is that these nutty changes, without consultation (am amazed Red’s been in the Lectionary for Sunday after Ascension so long – shows how often I consult it!) just undermines any confidence the liturgically aware whould have in it. That is surely not good for anyone. Another case in point is the drift to the C of E’s “Kingdom Season” – i.e. red for the last Sundays in Ordinary Time before Christ the King and Advent.

    Where was the notification, let alone consultation, and most importanly the *explanation* of why and what was/might be done?

    No wonder there’s a loss of liturgical literacy among lay and ordained… if you can’t follow basic long-standing assumptions about such simple things as colours, or be able to easily comprehend the theological underpinning, why should we be surprised when more complex issues are fudged or forgotten?

  8. Tim Hurd says:

    As for General Synod not celebrating Ascension… it absolutely beggars belief.

    I’ve no problem with incorporating a saintly commemoration into the liturgy, through addition or homiletics, but to ignore a Principal Feast is another stark statement about declining liturgical literacy at all levels of our church.

  9. Tim Hurd says:

    Although Bosco, it is quite common for Ascension to be commemorated on the Sunday (as the lectionary allows for), in communities that don’t have regular or special worship on the Thursday – and even in some cases (I’m guilty) where they do. I’ve tended to keep the Sunday following as that in the Octave, with the readings for Ascension.

    In parishes without a strong mid-week attendance, this ensures the Feast is prominent.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Tim, not wanting to criticise your own practice, this being, after all, the “Anglican Church of Or”, but let’s at least be clear about things.

      The lectionary may very well allow the use of the Ascension Day propers on the Sunday following, but, as far as I can ascertain, our church does not. On the Thursday entry in the lectionary it states, “This provision may be used on Sunday after the Ascension”. Very interesting is that on that Sunday’s entry, whilst everywhere else all possible options are normally listed, this option is not provided!

      I can find no reference to the possibility in NZPB’s regulations. Furthermore, General Synod 2002 introduced a new formulary, which was then debated and passed in all diocesan synods and hui amorangi, and once again at General Synod 2004, that nothing can replace Ascension Day, and that only “a patronal or dedication festival” may replace Sundays in “Great Fifty Days of Eastertide, from Easter Day to The Day of Pentecost”. If anyone can find a ANZP formulary that allows for celebrating other propers on Ascension Day, or transferring Ascension Day to the following Sunday it would be great to have that here, thanks.

      Communities with Ascension Day as their title are exempt from this discussion.

      What interests me, as this thread develops, is not that we are flexible in our liturgical life – as I indicated in the original post I think a degree of flexibility is good. What interests me is that at the official level there is unbelievable energy expended producing legislation in which every i is dotted and every t has its seraph, this is then debated at every diocesan synod and hui amorangi and again at General Synod – and once passed it is totally ignored, even by those who have worked with such energy to steer this process!

      ps. The poll has moved from 4:1 in favour of white, and is currently running at 6:1 in favour of white.

  10. Bruce Marshall says:

    As a concession to the reality that for most North American Christians the feast of the Ascension just does not have any cultural or popular support (like Christmas, Easter or even Mardi Gras) many Episcopal parishes treat the 7th Sunday of Easter as the time to celebrate the Ascension, though it is not really “transferred” because the Propers for the Ascension are not used. The color is always white — red is only for Pentecost.
    5 hours ago ·

  11. Tim Hurd says:

    I agree with the general thrust of your comments Bosco, more than that in fact. However the lectionary (which is not the same as statute, or even always sanity) does (in its *printed* form) have a second RCL column for the Sunday-after entry headed “Or readings for Ascension”… which it then lists.

    We run into simiar (and perhaps peculiarly Southern Hemisphere holiday) issues with the Epiphany. If not kept on a Sunday, this great Feast of the Church would remain entirely invisible to most parishioners.

    • Bosco Peters says:

      Curioser and curiouser! Cried Bosco (he was so much surprised, that for the moment he quite forgot how to speak good English).

      Tim, please accept, in equal proportions, my apologies and my thanks.

      I was looking at the PDF of the lectionary online, Fr Tim is quite correct – the printed edition of the same lectionary in the Anglican Church of Or is…. different!
      Now one wonders: which is the later of the two? Is the online version later, and they realised that celebrating Ascension Day on Sunday is contrary to the formularies and so removed this option? Or, is the printed version later, and they realised that they had omitted an important (if contrary-to-the-formularies) option. If this: why have they not updated the online PDF?

      The 1996 printed lectionary is the first one with the words on the 7th Sunday of Easter: “(May use readings for Ascension Day)”. The 2000 printed lectionary is the first to actually add the readings as an option (giving something like 5 complete sets of readings for a morning service!)

      I think the logic of moving Epiphany would mean we would have to shift it into February :-) Attempts to move Corpus Christi to a Sunday (bringing us into line with our ecumenical partners) were resisted, and that Sunday instead is dedicated to the three-tikanga constitution.

      A primary question/point continues to be in the vein of: if we mostly wanted the option of moving Ascension Day, why did all the diocese and hui amorangi say yes to the rules of General Synod forbidding this when these were debated locally? Why is what we actually do, and what we would like to do, and what is appropriate to do not reflected, through our diocesan debates, in the formularies that we promise and sign we will follow? And why do our official publications, General Synod, etc. not reflect the decisions that we/they have made?

      ps. above I noted the ratio had moved from 4:1 to 6:1, it currently stands 8:1 in favour of white! NZ lectionary-with-descriptive-not-prescriptive colours take note!

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Rev. Bosco Peters Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.