Friday, 20 May 2016

The Liturgical Colour Red (Ruber) : 1

For those observing the calendar of the 1962 (or earlier) edition of the Missale Romanum, the Octave of Pentecost is still being celebrated. * It seems an appropriate moment to commence a short series here on the history of the use of the liturgical colour red (ruber).

Red chasuble
Chasuble made from a brighter red silk.
This vestment in the Studio's
Saint Martin form.
We begin by noting when red vestments are to be used :

Articles 123-126 of Chapter XVIII of the Rubricae Generales of the Roman Missal (1962) prescribe that the colour red is to be worn in Offices and Masses of the Season from the Vigil Mass of the Pentecost throughout the week to the Saturday following.

It is also prescribes red to be used on feastday Masses of the mysteries and instruments of the Lord's Passion; on feastday Masses of the Apostles and Evangelists (except Saint John); on the feastdays of all the Roman Pontiffs; on the feastdays of the Martyrs and on feastdays of the Holy Relics.

Further, red is to be used in Votive Masses of the Passion of our Lord; of the Holy Spirit; and for the election of the Roman Pontiff. And lastly red vestments are to be used for the Blessing of Palms &c on Palm Sunday.

The Roman Missal of 1970 at article 308 of its General Instructions is somewhat altered and abbreviated :

Dalmatic made from a silk 
damask of deep red.
Red is used on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Pentecost, feasts of the Passion of our Lord, feasts of the Apostles and and Evangelists and the feasts of martyrs.

Nowhere is it prescribed in either sets of liturgical directives what shade of red is to be used. Consequently we find several different shades of red in liturgical use, but mainly two : a very bright red (similar to the scarlet used in the choirdress of Cardinals) and deeper shade, perhaps even darker than crimson.

Whilst neither one or the other of these two shades is prescribed, it is fitting that a deeper red - a blood red - be used on the feasts of the martyrs and evangelists and for mysteries of the Lord's Passion (for example, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross). Conversely, on the Solemnity of Pentecost and other days associated with the Holy Spirit (for example, ritual Masses for Confirmation), it seems fitting that a flame red be used.

Chasuble made from a brocade 
of red and gold. The combination 
produces a flame-like colour, 
very fitting for Pentecost.
Throughout the history of the liturgical colour red, both these shades - blood red and flame red have been found.  The use of vestments which are both red and gold is most fitting for the Solemnity of Pentecost, since these colours in combination frequently give the impression of a flame colour. The festal character of this combination is also very fitting to so great a Feast.

In further posts, we shall trace the varied history of the use of red as a liturgical colour.

Click on the images for an enlarged view.

* A very misguided act it was by the devisers of the 1970 Roman Missal to suppress the beautiful Whitsun Octave.