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Easter 7

Let There Be White

Easter 7

Updated Sunday 1 June: Every NZ Anglican that has contacted me publicly or privately has indicated that today’s liturgical colour used in their community is White. This includes my winning my bet (below) that even the lectionary editors are not following the lectionary colour suggestion. Whilst I am not being so bold as to suggest that no communities today are using Red, I do contend that the lectionary cannot claim “Colours shown here are those likely to be used in most parishes.” (page 125). Either it in future alters the lectionary suggestion, or it makes White at least an equal option, or it retracts its justification of the colours as being “those likely to be used in most parishes.” Now to the original post:

Once again we meet an inexplicable liturgical colour suggestion in New Zealand’s Lectionary booklet. This coming week, from the 7th Sunday of Easter to the Day of Pentecost, the NZ Lectionary booklet suggests … Red.

In a church which would hope to renew a sense that Easter is a season of 50 days (and, whatever its faults, the recently-passed Bill instructing us to refer to Sundays OF Easter not AFTER Easter at least indicates an intention to have a 50-day Easter Season) most destructive of such a renewal, second only to putting out and putting away the Easter Candle, I would think would be the idea of changing our liturgical colour. In most worship spaces the liturgical colour is central to setting the tone of the celebration – the season.

Princess Leia
The Rebellion
Let your White shine!

In the case of putting out and putting away the Easter Candle before the 50-day Season of Easter has concluded at least there is some historical tradition worth discussing. But switching the last week of the Easter Season from White to Red not only has no historical precedence that I am aware of, but is not practiced by any other church that I know of. Even mother Church of England, which has recently become eager on using more Red in the Church Year, and which we appear to be so keen on flattering by imitation in our recent changes, even the CofE does not depart from White in the Easter Season in this manner!

The Church of England rule is, “White is the colour for the festal period …from Easter Day to the Eve of Pentecost.” (page 532)

The NZ Lectionary Booklet insists that “Colours shown here are those likely to be used in most parishes.” (page 125). Can someone please give evidence that “most parishes” suddenly started using Red in the last week of the Easter Season, and then explain why, when no other church does so, and there is no previous tradition here of doing so?!

Oddly, our General Synod Te Hinota Whanui ruled “Red is used … from the Friday after Ascension Day to the Feast of Pentecost” (page 7). Thankfully it also said on the same page (being the Anglican Church of Or) “Appropriate liturgical colours are suggested: they are not mandatory and traditional or local use may be followed.” But someone else will have to explain what possessed GSTHW to think of switching to Red in the Easter Season in the first place?!

The Lectionary Booklet this year gets further confused, making the seasonal colour on the Friday after Ascension Day (today) White! [Which is as I would have it, but does not fit with the rest of what the Lectionary Booklet is doing].

The NZ Rules (page 7) are clearly derived from the CofE rules (page 532). It would be good to know why NZ departs from CofE’s in the Easter Season colour. [In other parts where NZ departs from mother CofE, doing that without sufficient care has led to some other confusion – but that is another story.]

NB. Continuing to use White through the Easter Season until the Eve of Pentecost is not being rebellious, it is following the Church’s tradition, it is emphasising Easter is a season of 50 days, it is what is followed throughout the Anglican Communion, it is ecumenical, and international. I would be willing to put money on it that not even the editors of the Lectionary booklet will follow its “suggestion”, rather “traditional or local use will be followed” and White used.

Don’t use Red. Use White.
Do it right. Use White.

Today is the Forty-first day of Easter.

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28 thoughts on “Let There Be White”

  1. For full disclosure I am an Episcopalian from the USA. First, I would like to say thank you for your work. Many times there are not enough liturgical websites on the internet for me to look at.
    That being said, RED is the traditional color for Pentecost as it is the color of the Holy Spirit and fire. Yes, Pentecost is definitely the 50th day of Easter, but is also the start of something else. Even your own Prayer Book has variations that are not for Eastertide, but are specifically for Pentecost, such as one of my favorite, “Through the Holy Spirit nations, races, and languages are called to welcome the great things you have done…” Yes, Christ is still risen, but the Holy Spirit is also descending upon us as we commemorate on Pentecost. And red is just a symbol of that and it sets the form for this. Yes it is Easter, yes the Easter candle should be left out, but there should be a different color for this the day as there has been for centuries, and that color is red.
    Don’t use white, Use RED!

    1. Thanks, Jimmy. I think you have skimmed my post rather than read it. So, thanks for the opportunity to clarify if there is anything unclear. The liturgical colour for the Day of Pentecost is Red. I am certainly upholding that tradition. This is about the last week of the Easter Season, the week leading up to the Day of Pentecost. The lectionary booklet (image at the start of this post) has Red for the colour for this Sunday. Are you suggesting that is correct? The Pentecost variations are intended for the Day of Pentecost, Sunday week (8 June), not this Sunday (1 June). So until the Eve of the Pentecost I contend that the tradition is to continue in White. The Day of Pentecost is Red. Or are you suggesting otherwise? Christ is Risen!

      1. 1 June and 8 June, right? Or will you be changing colours at Evensong in anticipation?

        My first guess would simply have been that the “R” in the lectionary was a typo. I imagine that your lectionary is an annual cut-and-paste project, and that inevitably means bits of digital detritus hanging around.

        That’s certainly the case in our Canadian equivalent, “McCausland’s Order of Divine Service”, which sometimes has verses from two different readings accidentally mashed together. You can tell when no one bothered to check what the actual liturgical books prescribe!

        But then… maybe the R isn’t a blunder or a typo. It could be a “copyright trap”! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fictitious_entry)

        1. Thanks, Jesse, for pointing out I had written 31 May and 7 June instead of 1 June and 8 June. I fixed that now.

          Actually, Jesse, as I point out, it is our lectionary booklet that has the typo for today when it suggests the seasonal colour be White! So it makes a typo changing it to what we would agree with 🙂

          When you look at the lectionary booklet you will see that it is the whole week that is Red – not just a typo slip from another year’s Day of Pentecost. And, as I explained, Red is the suggestion of the colour from our General Synod ruling (page 7) from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost. Thankfully it is only a “suggestion”.


  2. Dear Bosco – in defence of the fact that the Season of Easter last for fifty (not just forty) Days, I agree with you that the liturgically correct colour for vestments at the Eucharist is WHITE – for the whole season.

    The disciples were told to WAIT, in Jerusalem, until the Spirit came upon them. They were not meant to divert from their Easter watch until the Day itself. Nor should we pre-empt the Coming of the Holy Spirit before the Day of Pentecotst.

    Leave the flaming RED chasuble and stole, until the Day of Pentecost. It makes more sense!

    (p.s.. I hope Fr. Andrew reads your post!!!)

      1. Well, Bosco, at Mass this morning at SMAA, the Vicar wore white with blue orphreys – in honour of the BVM, whose Visitation to Elizabeth we celebrated today. (Magnificat!)

        All clergy at Saint Michael’s will be wearing white vestments at the Daily Masses – with Red on Pentecost Sunday. Looking forward to it all!

  3. I was just putting up our readings for Sunday on our website and considering which verse from Acts to include as a quote. The section that struck me as important was not so much Jesus’ ascension – but what the disciples did in response. They went back home and prayed.
    So yes, Pentecost is not yet upon us. We are still processing the mystery of the resurrection and this is a week for prayer.
    “Wear white this Sunday, you must. Yes, hmmm.”

  4. On a wider subject – which you may or may not wish to follow up, Bosco – i often wish that the lectionary itself did a better job of sticking with Easter themes through the seven weeks of the Easter season. Yes, we get resurrection gospels for the first two or three weeks, but then we go off into John 14 and we get Good Shepherd Sunday and all that stuff. One year we get 1 Peter, which is quite resurrection focussed, but then one year we get 1 John. I’d love it if we worked through 1 Corinthians 15 in one of the cycles!

    Personally I don’t lose too much sleep over the liturgical colours – we stick with white, but no one in Canada’s calling for us to change early anyway – but I do get a little grumpy about the loss of lectionary focus later in the season.

    One thing that quite a few people do is to move the Ascension Day lections to the Sunday after Ascension – facing the reality that we only get tiny congregations on a Thursday, and Ascension Day is too important a festival to treat so scantily.

    1. Thanks, Tim. I guess what I would be keen on doing is seeing how to encourage keeping the resurrection focus on the boil with the readings we are given. An interesting possible project. I am quite hesitant about proposing alternative readings. I think you know that. Christ is Risen!

  5. The far preferable way to get more Holy Spirit (and more red) into the year is to give Pentecost its Octave back.

    1. Well, Chris. There’s always the option of meeting up with the Holy Spirit on a daily basis at the epiclesis in the Daily Mass. Come and join us at St. Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, N.Z. – any day of the week! This habit can be most invigorating.

  6. The Australian Edition of RCL 2014 faitfully maintains a seasonal colour of white right through until Evening Prayer on 07.06.2014 when it changes to red.
    [The only exceptions to this are when we celebrate the Martyrs of Uganda (R) on 03.06.2014 and St Boniface of Mainz (R) on 05.06.2014.]

  7. Andrew McKean

    My pocket version of the English “Celebrating Common Prayer” (itself a version of the Daily Office SSF) states that:
    “Easter begins with the Vigil of Easter and ends after Night Prayer on the feast of Pentecost. During this period, Form 1 is used.
    Pentecost begins with Morning Prayer on the Friday after Ascension Day and ends with Night Prayer on the feast of Pentecost. During this period, Form 2 is used.”
    My experience of the Daily Office in Anglican Franciscan communities is that we have indeed treated Pentecost as a season beginning after Ascension and leading up to the Day of Pentecost.

    I confess to celebrating in a red stole on “Easter 7”. I don’t think of Pentecost and Easter as mutually exclusive, any more than I think of Passiontide and Lent as being so. For me, Easter celebrates the new thing that God has done in Christ, and it leads into the new community that is celebrated at Pentecost, so I can happily keep the Acts reading and talk about the early community and use the Red vestments to draw attention to a different aspect of Easter without it implying that Easter is over.

    I must admit, when I’m in a church that doesn’t tend to mark Saints’ Days (one particular church I help out at didn’t even know when its patronal festival was), I’ll take any excuse to dig out my red vestments which otherwise hang neglected in my wardrobe.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I also have a copy of that Office and will have to check it later, because the rubric you quote seems to be self-contradictory. It makes perfect sense to me that the period from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost has a particular flavour within the Easter Season, just as the first week of the Easter Season has a particular flavour. I think that Lent is well established, both in church culture and in the post-Christian consciousness beyond church. For Easter that is significantly different. I do not think that the 50-day Easter Season is at all well established either in church, and certainly not in the world. Do a quick random survey of Christians and ask them how long Easter lasts. Compare that with a quick survey of Christians how long Lent lasts. Having from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost as “the Pentecost Season” must be very new, and not at all widespread. In the early church the whole of the 50 days of the Easter Season was “the Pentecost Season” (see Nicaea). Christ is Risen!

  8. Hi Bosco,
    I’m going to rain on your parade – every parish I was in in Nelson wore red for Pentecost (including the cathedral), certainly St Matthew’s in Dunedin did too, but I’d be surprised if other parishes didn’t.

    Maybe this is a churhmanship thing, but I don’t recall ever having seen white worn at Pentecost.

    I’ll be dressing like an Anglican cleric and will wear cassock and surplice with preaching scarf.

    1. Yes, Zane. The Day of Pentecost is Red. The only reports I’ve received in response to this post from the Nelson Diocese have all used White. Christ is Risen!

  9. Sorry – I misread the week above – duh! Red the week before Pentecost, is just insane. Stick with easter, ascension and white – although again, I’m all black and white!

    1. Right, Zane. So you never have any change of colour anywhere in your worship environment, right throughout the Church Year? Always black & white? Blessings.

      1. Always black and white.
        That said,we did have a Masai blanket on the Lord’s table the week before Christmas to provide a bit of atmosphere for our Naticity Scene. It was red, blue, green and orange.

  10. I hope I can guess where your R does come from.

    The traditional custom is to have an octave of the Pentecost. Thus, from the middle of the vigil of the Pentecost untill the Saturday following, red is to be worn.

    But some places (especially the RC Church) have “abolished” the octave of Pentecost, in order to keep the n° 50 for Eastertide, with Whitsunday being the day of Easter closing. In this case, they feel that the time to pray the Holy Spirit is too short; therefore do they make the octave backwards. In Belgium, for instance, most of the parishes celebrate the Holy Spirit from Ascension to Whitsunday, and some take red too, for the same reason.

    I would say: Lowchurchmen of all countries, unite!

    1. Thanks, Georges. In the case of the NZ lectionary booklet, the week following the Day of Pentecost is a week of special prayer. The liturgical colour is… Green. Blessings.

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