quod pro nobis traditum est

Thursday, November 15, 2007


from the Latin adventus

For Christians, the anticipation and joy of Christmas are undisputed. The intensity of the weeks leading up to Christmas, is also something incomparable in terms of commercial activity, busy-ness and stress. Halloween leads to Thanksgiving which leads to Christmas which seems connected to New Year’s Day, a festivity on the tail’s end. In between are countless shopping trips, social outings, football games, and the like.

In the Eastern Church, Advent begins today. In the Western Church Advent begins this year on December 2, the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends before the evening of Christmas Eve.

From the 4th century this was a period of fasting which was held strictly like that of Lent. The strict observance of fasting was later relaxed in Lutheran practice. The period began in some places on November 11 (St. Martin of Tours) and so was known as “St. Martin’s Fast,” “St. Martin’s Lent,” or “the forty days of St. Martin.” Reed writes,

Advent as a season of preparation for the Nativity originated in France. Its observance was general by the time of the second Council of Tours, 567. . . It was probably not until the thirteenth century that Advent was universally recognized as beginning the Christian year, which up to that time had begun with the Festival of the Annunciation in March or, in some places, with Christmas.
(The Lutheran Liturgy, pp. 465-6)

Although strict fasting is no longer the rule and although Advent does not compare with Lent in terms of its strict emphasis on repentance, Advent remains a solemn period of repentance and purification in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. Some practices during Advent include the Advent Wreath, daily readings in Scripture with prayer, the singing of the Great Antiphons (Dec. 17-24) and the use of the liturgical colors of purple, violet or blue (Sarum Rite).

With the secular pressures and the growing impact of Christmas on the heels of Thanksgiving, the season of Advent is often overlooked and neglected, if not forgotten. There seems to be no greater contrast during the year than to solemnly observe Advent when everything around us is pulling us in different directions. Through the observance of Advent the Church not only lives in contrast to the world around her, even more important, she herself is being prepared for the way of the Lord.


Past Elder said...

Why has the entire world woken up to find itself Sarum in Advent?

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

The Sarum Rite is often the explanation given for the use of blue during Advent. The Sarum Rite is a variant of the Roman Rite, a development from the pre-Tridentine Mass that was in use in the British isles before the English Reformation. This Rite formed the basis for the Anglican liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer and it is also used by Western rite members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. In recent years I hear rumblings among Lutherans that the use of blue in Advent is "Marian." This may or may not be the case. I have not found any source that connects the use of blue during Advent with Marian devotion. In any case, the mention of the "Sarum Rite" here is not given as an endorsement per se but as an explanation why we see blue in some churches during Advent. My uneducated guess is that the use of blue that we see in some Lutheran Churches during Advent would be more a result of Anglican influence than anything else. Of course, in spite of anti-Catholic sentiment, there is nothing Scripturally nor traditionally wrong with the use of purple or violet (which emphasize repentance and the royal aspects of the coming of the Lord or King).

Past Elder said...

Thank you, Pastor.

Re blue as Marian, as a former RC -- yes, blue is the colour associated with Mary. It is also associated with the modern State of Israel, but I would find a Marian basis for blue in Advent as much of a stretch as a Zionist basis.

Your Anglican influence explanation makes sense. It seems non English Lutheran immigrants in America turned a lot to Anglican sources for English texts. Not entirely to our benefit, I would say.

Maybe this too, not just our latest infatuation with "evangelical" worship styles, is an example of trying to adopt non-Lutheran worship and adapt it to Lutheran content. This is not what I read from the BOC saying we retain the usual ceremonies etc.

A little personal secret -- as we continue to discover that crucifixes, the Sign of the Cross, etc are not Catholic but part of our catholic heritage, maybe at some point the Anglican usage of appending "For thine ..." to the Our Father, originally done I think to distinguish those who accepted the English monarch as head of the church in England from those who didn't, will melt away and we will know the Our Father / Vater unser as Luther did (still apparent in the LC).

In the two parishes to which I have belonged in my 11 years next month as a Lutheran, first WELS and now LCMS, both have used blue for Advent, all the stranger with the Advent wreath still with its purple candles. We'll see if they light the rose one for Gaudete!

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

Thank you for this instructive response.

If you are aware of the history of blue in association with Mary within the Catholic Church I am interested in knowing its roots (ie, is this since Vatican II?). I have heard of this association but do not know any history. I have not heard of its association with the modern State of Israel in terms of its use as a color within the Christian liturgy.

The Anglican influence with regard to various Lutheran liturgical practices and today's infatuation with "evangelical" worship styles are likely connected as you suggest. It makes a lot of sense that the shift to English had and continues to have an impact on
Lutheran practices. Since language shifts also include cultural influences it is not surprising that Lutheran liturgical practices would be affected both positively and negatively. (I have come to the conclusion that "evangelical" worship styles are now passé and that these styles are neither "contemporary" nor "evangelical" but an emphasis on functions that are graded on their entertainment value to the institution. In other words, what we see called "worship" in many auditoriums, gymnasiums or assembly halls is not "worship" at all but a variation of entertainment with minimal reference to religious sentiment. This is no longer about "contemporary" "evangelical" nor "worship" but rather the success of various aspects of the entertainment industry.)

Your personal secret is helpful since I was unaware of the appendage to the Our Father as a reference to the English monarchy. The Gospel of Matthew is instructive here. Also we see the prayer ending with the final petition in the Suffrages (The Lutheran Hymnal). With the recent hymnals, LW and LSB, making the sign of the cross while praying the final petition is helpful whether or not the appendage is there.

I confess to using blue for Advent in years past. When we switched back to purple (we do not have violet) the wreath still had blue candles so we went a year without the wreath. This year everything appears to be in sync.

By the way, your use of the word "colour" brings me back to my days growing up in New Hampshire and some word spelling that I picked up there dropped quickly when I moved to other parts of the country.

Past Elder said...

The association of blue with Mary is definitely not a post conciliar development. She is always depicted in white and blue, at least in Western usage.

Here's a little ditty we were taught as kids, which I have heard Fulton Sheen use too.

Lovely lady dressed in blue,
Teach us how to pray.
God was once your little boy,
And you know the way.

As to the English spellings, that happened in Europe. At least at that time, English as taught was English English, and while I speak with a clearly Midwestern accent, which once upon a time stood out in New England too, I found it easier to write that way and never dropped the custom.

BTW, I find the Vatican II for Lutherans trends in our worship along the same lines as adopting Anglican or "contemporary" worship.

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

Thanks for this response. Yes, there are external influences. The trick is not to use "adiaphora" as a foundation because that can be quite wishy-washy. It is better to receive what fits best in line with the historic liturgy of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church (or, "Christian").

Brian P Westgate said...

All this talk about Sarum blue gets me thinking. I have to ask, why didn't the Germans use blue? After all, the Sarum lectionary and the Lutheran lectionary are virtually identical in Advent (and pretty much the rest of the church year, though there are some differences.) But the Sarum Rite is not the Augustana Rite, and the Augustana Rite prescribes violet/purple for Advent. Besides, if you use blue, you don't really get to use rose. . . .

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

Someone somewhere knows the answer. Of course, the use of blue did not originate in Germany but in Salisbury. Based on the Confessio Augustana and what it says about retaining that which is catholic, I suppose that the Germans saw violet/purple as being in accord with Scripture and Tradition (in other words, there was not anything non- or anti-Scriptural about this tradition). Like the use of rose, another advantage to returning to violet/purple if the practice was blue is that one can switch from liquid candles back to beeswax.