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We May Not Have a White Christmas, but We’ll Have a Blue Advent!

News--Blue Advent

One of the distinctives of the Anglican way of worship is our liturgical observation of the different seasons of the Church year. The rhythm of these seasons follows that of Christ’s life, so that each year we are reminded of the key events in his life and God’s plan of salvation through prayers and songs and colorful vestments and liturgical hangings appropriate for each season. This year, we will be making a change in our Advent colors from purple to blue, both of which have a long tradition in the Anglican way of worship.

For years, we have been using the same purple vestments and hangings for both Lent and Advent. Lent, of course, is the deeply penitential season that precedes Easter and focuses on sorrow for our sins. Advent, on the other hand, is a season of expectation and hope as we look towards the coming of the promised Messiah at Christmas and towards His Second Coming in power and great glory at the end of the age. Because of this difference in emphasis, many Anglican churches reserve the purple hangings and vestments for Lent and use blue hangings and vestments for Advent. This custom is deeply rooted in the Church of England, where some cathedrals have had the tradition of using blue for Advent for centuries. Part of the reason both blue and purple have been used is that most ancient documents commend the use of indigo dye, which was expensive and difficult to obtain, and which yielded results that ranged between blue and purple.

York Minster Altar

The Advent hangings of The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Saint Peter in York (North Yorkshire, United Kingdom), more commonly know as York Minster. 

In the 19th century, when there was an effort in the Church of England to bolster the beauty of holiness in its worship services, Anglican church scholars researched which practices had long been part of the Church of England and were part of its heritage, often referring to these as Sarum Rite or English Use practices, referencing the ancient liturgies originating around Salisbury Cathedral. The great scholar-priest the Rev. Percy Dearmer, who was a Canon of Westminster Abbey as well as a renowned hymn writer, wrote the influential Parson’s Handbook in 1899 and notes the use of blue and violet vestments in Salisbury dating back to the 13th century. Many of the great cathedrals in England as well as a number of the Chapels Royal continue to use blue for Advent today.

A generous donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has given us a beautiful set of hangings and vestments in Advent blue. For us at St. Philip’s, our hope is that this use of blue at Advent will remind us of the hope and expectation of this great season as we look towards the great miracle of Christ’s Incarnation. We are as those waiting under a dark night sky waiting for dawn to come and the Light of the World to shine. As this beloved hymn written over 300 years ago puts it,

Our hope and expectation, O Jesus now appear,

Arise Thou Sun so longed for o’er this benighted sphere!

With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see

The day of earth’s redemption and ever be with Thee.