Black Vestments

On this Saturday, November 2nd – the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – clergy have the option of wearing black vestments during liturgical celebrations. (There is also the option of wearing white or violet.)

While the use of this color has been “out of style” for many years, it has never been abolished, and is indeed making a “comeback”, as we rediscover some of the treasures of our tradition that were perhaps too hastily (and without good reason) thrown out by some in the past.

Me, wearing my black chasuble for All Souls in 2008.

Here is something I wrote with a priest friend several years back concerning the meaning of black vestments:

Black is the traditional color for funeral vesture. This color symbolizes our mourning and sorrow, that death has taken from us one who is dear and beloved. It symbolizes a very profound reality about our Christian prayer: in our sorrow, we are not alone. The priest stands in the person of Christ when he celebrates the funeral, and thus in a certain sense represents the whole Church. And we know that when we worship God we are not alone; our prayers are united together with all other Christians throughout the world. Therefore, when the priest wears black vestments he symbolizes the Church who “weeps with those who weep” (cf. Romans 12:15): the Church is present in all the significant events of our lives, both joyful (weddings, baptisms, etc.) and sad (funerals, visits to the sick, etc.). With black vesture we see that Holy Mother Church joins us in our sorrow at the loss of our loved one and consoles us with her beautiful funeral rites. Black also reminds us, like violet, of the need to pray for our loved ones, asking God to free them from sin and admit them into His Kingdom of light. This color additionally reflects our own mortality: each of us must encounter death and be spiritually prepared for its inevitable arrival, as “it is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). In conclusion, most black vestments are lightly adorned with more festive colors like gold or silver, symbolizing that though death be sorrowful and dark, Christ has conquered death and has given us the bright hope of eternal life.

I hope that you see black vestments in your parish on All Souls Day!

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