25 March 2016
Are you sure it's Red today?
BLACK OR RED?
In 2009, Professor Richard Parish of this University delivered a quite brilliant series of Bampton Lectures (you can't get more prestigious than that) on seventeenth century French Catholicism. In the course of one of them, quite obiter, he mentioned the effect that seeing the liturgical colour Red on Good Friday must have had on people's devotion. It got me thinking ...
... in fact, thinking so much that, called by God as I am to be a pedant, I went to Queen's College library and looked at their Missale Parisiense to check.
You've guessed: the colour was indeed Black. An example, perhaps, of how even the very clever and very learned can instinctively assume that what they have come to see as normative may in fact be a fashion of yesterday. It is a suggestive instance of the rupture which attacked Catholic worship during the changes sponsored by Pius XII and subsequent pontiffs. Although it has to be said that when Hannibal Bugnini began the alteration of Holy Week in the 1950s, even he did not then dare to give this Day its modern liturgical colour of Red. That was to come later. [Bugnini did at that time order Violet for the Communion Service which concludes today's Liturgy; the Ordinariate Missal - see below - does not follow him in this.]
Perhaps you may be wondering whether, on the Day of the Lord's Passion, the history of liturgical colours ought to be the subject uppermost in my mind. You have a point. But I think there is a real question here. Red is an obvious colour because the Lord Today shed his Precious Blood. But is there not a degree of superficiality involved in therefore using Red? Dom Gueranger explains that we use Black because of our own feeling of immense grief on this day of all days. It might be added that Black makes this day almost unique ... because it is almost unique. My own instinct is that in a liturgical culture in which Black is used for Requiems and funerals, there is a lot to be said for using it for Good Friday too: it makes the point that our Lord dies as truly as Aunt Mildred died last December; that His Death is the real Death into which we each died at our Baptism; the real Death by which all may be saved. I think therefore that there is a good case for the option afforded by the Ordinariate Missal, to return to the tradition of Black vestments on Good Friday.
It is recorded that King George V could never understand why his ecclesiastical household did not allow him to receive Holy Communion on Good Friday. Perhaps, in an age of frequent Communion, restraint from the Sacrament on the Day of the Lord's Death marks its uniqueness. The distinctly intelligent Anglican manual Liturgy and Worship (1932; p 738) writes "The act of Communion at the end of the service is perhaps the most moving ceremony of the whole liturgical year. No one who has not experienced it can realise what a climax it makes to the observance of Good Friday, or how near we are brought in spirit to the Divine Victim of the Cross. In theory perhaps we ought to wish for a restoration of the general Communion of Good Friday, but in practice the very fact of abstinence from Communion is felt by many to enhance the essential feeling of the day, that the Bridegroom is taken away from us."
[That particular chapter of Liturgy and Worship was written by Kenneth Donald Mackenzie, Bishop of Brechin, who was much involved in the Anglo-Catholic Congresses.]