Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rose Vestments: Heralds of Victory

St Bonaventura (1628) 
by Francisco de Herrera
To continue this series on Advent, let us examine a widely misunderstood liturgical color that appears only twice every year: Rose.

On one Sunday each Advent and Lent, the priest will come out of the sacristy wearing rose vestments and inevitably makes some sort of comment about how the color of his vestments should not be classified as "pink," but rose.  Often the priest is somewhat embarrassed, especially when his parishioners give their pastor a hard time.

Yet, the use of rose vestments during the sacred liturgy of the third Sunday of Advent has been a part of the Church's tradition for many centuries.
This color, which is only used twice in the whole liturgical year, is traditionally associated with a sense of joy amidst a season of penance. On both Sundays (Gaudete in Advent and Laetare in Lent), rose is worn to remind us that the season of preparation is coming to a close and the great feast is swiftly approaching. Thus, upon seeing the color rose we are called to rejoice; the preparations are nearly complete and Christmastide is almost here!

Dawn in St. Petersburg (1870)
by Fyodor Vasilyev
Breaking of the Dawn
Additionally, I recently heard an explanation behind the color of the rose vestments that I have yet to find anywhere else. Besides rose being a color of joy, it is also one of the last colors seen before the sun rises. If you were to get up early tomorrow and witness the sunrise, the sky would be marked with a beautiful hue of rose and you would know that the sun is not far behind. So too with Gaudete Sunday. On this third Sunday of Advent the Church expresses her joy that the Sun of Justice will be born; in fact, His birth is almost here! The Church cannot contain her joy at the coming of her Savior, for she knows that He will bring victory over sin and death.

Victory of the Dawn
This fundamental truth also found its way into the works of the great Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien.  Time and time again the numerous battles in Middle-Earth are won at what time of the day? Dawn. Tolkien saw the rising of the sun as a great victory, just like the birth of the Sun of Justice brought forth the ultimate victory over the darkness of this world.

For example, the dawn provided great hope at the battle of Helm's Deep. At the point of greatest desperation, when it looked like the Uruk-hai would reign victorious, Aragorn stops everything. The Uruk-hai ask him, "Why do you look out? Do you wish to see the greatness of our army?" Aragorn responds, "I looked out to see the dawn...None knows what the new day shall bring him...Get you gone, ere it turn to your evil." Shortly after this prophetic line, the great horn of Helm's Deep was sounded and the White Rider (Gandalf) appeared on the ridge. Victory was theirs.

Additionally, at the moment of greatest darkness when it looked as if the city of Gondor would be destroyed by the forces of Mordor, victory is had at the breaking of the dawn. At this point, Gandalf is face to face with the dark Lord of the Nazgul and recognizes what is happening even though he can not see it:

"Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment...a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns...Rohan had come at last."
Therefore, as we eagerly await the coming of our Savior at Christmas, let us not forget the great victory He won for us on Easter Sunday. Darkness has been conquered. Death is no more. This Advent, Let the light of Christ shatter your darkness.

This is an edited version of a post that previously appeared on my blog Into the West.


  1. Very beautiful. And just the very thing I was thinking about (and wrote about) this morning.
    I hope you enjoyed the movie last night...I am looking forward to watching it this afternoon!

  2. Thank you! We were finally able to see the film yesterday afternoon...I will be posting my thoughts over the next few weeks.


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