22 April 2011

Blue, Blue, Blue...Where are you?

My friend Benjamín Arredondo recently wrote about "Los Colores de la Litugia" (The Colores of the Liturgy) which you can read in Spanish by clicking on this link to his web page, "El Señor del Hospital". He did a splendid job and one thing that he mentioned piqued my curiosity. It is the fact that Spain and its former colonies are the only places (with a few minor exceptions) where the Catholic Church "officially"sanctions the use of the color blue for vestments used in the mass and only then for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. I couldn't help thinking "Why only Spain and her former colonies?" and "What is so special about the color blue?" Well, I am neither a theologian nor an historian but you might be interested to hear about what I learned while digging around in the attic of history.

During the first thousand years or so there were no specific documented rules for colors of the Liturgy. It was merely a matter of local custom. It wasn't until about the year 1200 that Pope Innocent III mentioned the use of five basic colors which were, White, Red, Green,Violet, and Black and it wasn't until 1570 that Pope Pius V introduced a specific color scheme to be followed by everyone in the Church or more specifically, the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. The colors were (and still are); "albus" (white), "ruber" (red) viridis (green) "violaceus (violet) "niger" (black), "rosaceus" (rose), "argentum " (silver) and "aurum" (gold). No mention of blue. Why? Well, it seems that in the early days of the church the color blue was associated with Eve as the "woman's color" and the color red was associated with Adam (and Jesus Christ) as the "man's color". Because Eve tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit some of the early church leaders felt that women were weaker intellectually and more susceptible to Satan's charms. Therefore, as a religious symbol the use if blue was avoided in certain locations such as before the altar. However, since the color blue was the color of women and Mary the Mother of Jesus is a woman, the church had to develop a limited acceptance of the color blue.

Let me pause for a moment and say something further regarding this thing about red being a man's color and blue being a woman's color. Before the turn if the twentieth century almost all baby and small children's clothing in the United States and elsewhere was white. The garments were made of cotton fibers and they were usually cleaned by boiling with lye soap. It wasn't until about World War I when the fabrics, the soaps, and color fast dyes were improved the the point where colored fabrics for children's clothes became practical. The trend toward colors was accelerated by the fact that most children's clothing was handed down from sibling to sibling but the marketing people discovered that they could double the sales of new clothing by advertising one color for boy's clothing and another color for girl's clothing...but here's the strange part. They chose pink for boys because it was a watered down version of red, the color of men. They chose light blue for girls because it was a watered down version of ultramarine blue, or the gemstone "Lapis Lazuli", the color of the Blessed Virgin Mary. By the way, the word "lapis" means stone in Latin and "lazuli" comes from the name "Lāzhward" which is the name of the place in Afghanistan where lapis lazuli is found. The Spanish word for blue, "azul" derives from "lazuli" as does the English word "azure". In the 1930's the Nazis in Germany began to require known homosexuals to wear a pink triangular identification badge and that is when some people say that pink became associated with the effeminate. I don't know if that is the real reason for the switch but by the end of World War II the colors pink and blue had done a complete flip-flop.

At a fairly early period in church history there was a question about whether or not the Blessed Virgin was conceived with the original sin of Eve because it would seen to be unsuitable for Our Lord to have been born of a woman with a sinful nature. After all, didn't the angel Gabriel say to Mary, "Hail Mary, full of grace" (Luke 1:28)? Many people believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary long before Pope Pius IX (Pius the Ninth) declared it to be church dogma in 1854. The totally sin free nature of Mary was a controversial subject over many centuries with some theologians believing that Mary was conceived without original sin and others believing that like Saint John the Baptist, she was sanctified in her mother's womb before birth as opposed to being free of original sin at the moment of conception. In any case Pius IX put it all to rest after declaring the Immaculate Conception dogma. He pretty much closed the book on that subject since his other lasting contribution was the invocation of the ecumenical council Vatican One, which promulgated the definition of Papal infallibility. The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8th because it is exactly nine months before September 8th which is the day in which Mary's birth is celebrated. Pope Pius IX granted Spain and its former colonies the right to use blue as a liturgical color only on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception because Spain had already been doing just that under the Spanish Mozarabic Rite for at least three centuries. Supposedly Mexico also has permission to use blue on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th but I could find no specific reference for that. Besides, this is Mexico, and the people here will do what they feel is appropriate and ask forgiveness later.

It is my belief that the color of the vestments and other trivial matters are not important. These little picky rules and controversies about what is allowed and what isn't allowed are just a distraction. What matters the most, especially at this Easter Season, is the fact and the belief that:

“Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine, et tuam resurrectionem confitemur, donec venias.

“LORD, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”



RobCarey said...

Very interesting, Bob, and a good conclusion to it all.

Bob Mrotek said...

Thanks Rob :)

Benjamín Arredondo said...

Brilliant !

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.