23 February 2015

Is the Patrimony Red or White?

As many readers will know, Anglican churches used to have a white light burning before the Blessed Sacrament ... as we do in the Church of the Holy Rood in Oxford, and as described in Betjeman's Lincolnshire Church and in his moving poem Felixstowe about the old nun, sole survivor of her Order,

... And all the world goes home to tea and toast.
I hurry past a cakeshop's tempting scones
Bound for the red brick twilight of St John's.
"Thou knowest my down sitting and mine uprising".
Here where the white light burns with steady glow,
Safe from the vain world's silly sympathising,
Safe in the Love that I was born to know,
Safe from the surging of the lonely sea,
My heart finds rest, my heart finds rest in Thee.

I remember hearing it once asserted that a white light before the Most Blessed Sacrament was what the Tridentine rules prescribed, and that red lights* were a Franco-Anglo-Irish RC corruption ... one example among so many of how we kept the rules so much better than they did (no, we weren't very nice people, were we?). Is there any truth in any of this?
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*In heavily Gothic Victorian churches, we had (sometimes as many as) seven (vide Revelation cap 5 et alibi) red lights burning before the High Altar, but not as an indication of the Sacramental Presence which might have been on a side altar and which, wherever It was, had Its own white light. A red light would probably also burn before the image of the Sacred Heart, and a blue one before the Great Mother of God.




10 comments:

Rhiannon said...

Interesting about the lights. At Clewer, it was red lights for the saints, blue for Our \Lady, and white for the tabernacle..

Fr PJM said...

In 1985, when I was shown the anglo-catholic church in Vancouver, (then part of the Anglican Church of Canada), they had the seven lamps burning, to honour the Shekina, the divine presence in the church, as a separate thing from the Blessed Sacrament.

umblepie said...


'Felixstow ..' - one of my favourite short poems by Betjeman. Evocative, spiritual, gentle, and whispering trust in God.

Dale Crakes said...

In the AC churches of my youth in the 40s, 50s, & 60s the 7 lights represented the spiritual gifts of the Holy Ghost. Give my regards to Dom Benedict Andersen when you get to Silverstream.

The Flying Dutchman said...

I think (I am sorry that I do not have a reference) that several Gallican Uses had red vestments for Corpus Christi. So, too, does the Ambrosian Rite today. Maybe the red lamp is related to red vestments, and the white lamp to the white vestments of the Roman Rite?

FrereRabit said...

As the brother sacristan at Hilfield friary and later at Glasshampton monastery, I was trained by the former sacristans in the tradition to follow. White sanctuary light for the blessed sacrament and also for the Hoy trinity icon. Red lights for other icons and blue for Our Lady. Now, years later, and increasingly depressed with the present liberal Catholic regime, I imagine that after the expected Green Encyclical, we shall be putting green lights in front of the potted plants.

The Flying Dutchman said...

Let me quote a Latin Mass Society article on liturgical colours:

"In the Gallican Rites of France, red was the usual colour for the Blessed Sacrament. During the French Revolution, bishops and priests escaping from the Terror came to England. Some re-introduced the practice of burning a lamp before the Blessed Sacrament in the then newly established Catholic chapels, hence in many churches today the red sanctuary lamp is in the Eucharistic liturgical colour of the Gallican Rites, not that of the Roman Rite."

Source:
Crumly, Arthur. "Liturgical Colours." Latin Mass Society. [Taken from the Latin Mass Society's May 2001 Newsletter.]

Robster said...

Green lamps are for confessor saints, such as St. Joseph. A Christmas Crib might have a white lamp for the Sacred Infant, a blue lamp for Our Lady, and a green lamp for the foster-father of Our Lord.

Stuart Chessman said...

In a 1944 guidebook to St. Vincent Ferrer church ( a grand neo-Gothic church in New York City, built in 1916, and administered by the Dominican Fathers) I found the following:

“The sanctuary lamp hangs suspended from the Rood beam. It is to remind us that Christ who died for us on the Cross still lives for us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Notice that it is of clear glass, not colored. This is strictly liturgical. Decree N. 3576 of the Sacred Congregation of rites, issued in 1883, says that if the glass vessel is visible is should be of white (clear) glass, which is the liturgical color of the Blessed Sacrament. The use of colored glass, however is tolerated.” (p142)

I have seen a sanctuary lamp with white glass in at least on other parish church in New York City built prior to the 1920’s.

Richard Friend said...

"C.I.C. 1271. The glass of the lamp should be white but coloured glass is tolerated. (S.R.C. 3576)" - From Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, page 27. I had always thought that the sanctuary lamp should be red, until I read this years ago.