Once upon a time: Getting from ashes to Easter

By Monsignor Xavier Mankel

Every parish has some. Packed away in a box or two, there is a supply of bunting and other material used to drape the doors of the parish church in gold and white when the pope dies. In civil matters, the bunting may be red, white and blue used on the Fourth of July or when any patriotic occasion calls for bunting.

Lots of the material was used to decorate parade routes on Armistice Day in 1918 at the end of World War I. The Church uses colors, too, some regularly (white, green, red, violet), and special colors for certain occasions such as funerals. These colors are black, gold or rose. In the western Church, the use of orange and blue have not found their way into the portfolio of liturgical colors.

Colors change. We formerly used purple on Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). Now, we use red. We used to use black as our Good Friday color; now we use red. We used to employ rose as an option on the Monday, Tuesday and Thursday of the fourth week of Lent. Now, we use violet all the time. Black formerly served as the color for funerals (and still is an option), but violet and white now are used.

Each color has meaning, and no one color is “better” than another.

But we do need to know why colors are selected for our celebrations.

When the Easter Vigil celebration was improved in 1955, a mixture of violet and white was used. Now it’s all white. In making plans for funerals, it is helpful to know why we choose black, violet or white.

Updates of a different hue also have taken place in the Church. The recent change from all men to a more diverse group for the washing of feet on Holy Thursday ushers in a new theology. Take your pick, but know why you are doing it.

Time is another factor in all this.

The Catholic Church has a place for a sunrise service, but other great things can be accomplished through the Easter Vigil, which must be celebrated after dark. And the use of the fast, greatly modified in our days, is another area of faith life in the midst of revision. Other devotions have come along (visits to churches, holy hour, Stations of the Cross, the “Tre Ore”) to enhance our Lent. Pick one or two and go with them. Daily Mass remains a tried and true way to get from ashes to Easter. Back to colors, does anyone remember the violet times of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quadragesima?

This color was used for centuries during these Sundays preceding Ash Wednesday, but it seems to not work so well in modern times.

I hope all of you have begun to read the wise words from the bishop of Phoenix found in the February issue of The East Tennessee Catholic.

If the “Into the Breach” exhortation by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted is all we read during Lent this year, it will be a helpful addition to our understanding of the Church. Other top-notch “must-reads” are the daily readings from the Mass. Most of them are short but they pack a wallop.

Whatever we have chosen to do during Lent, let’s do it every day.

Easter comes early this year, and we all need the graces that are available at this holy time of year. For spiritual and Scripture reading, don’t forget the accounts of the Passion not read on Palm Sunday or Good Friday.

There is a world of food for thought to be found in those lines.

As Lent proceeds across our calendars and our lives, let this be the best Lent ever!

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