Singing the Sarum blues

13 Responses

  1. Steve Pankey says:

    Bishop Alexander, in a DMin course at Sewanee this summer, suggested that at one time black was the liturgical color of penitential seasons. Depending on the berries used to dye fabric black, they faded to purple in some areas and blue in others. I believe blue was more common in northern climes, ex. England, therefore the ambiguity in Anglican use.

  2. Evan D. Garner says:

    I was told that Salisbury Cathedral (home of the Sarum Rite) was the only place the Vatican allowed blue to be used for Advent. Some argue that because much of the Anglican liturgy pulls from Sarum we should be blue, but I disagree. Yes, if you worship at Salisbury Cathedral, make it blue. Otherwise, purple is appropriate.

  3. Scott Gunn says:

    Evan, for what it’s worth, on the eve of the English Reformation, I believe Sarum was the most common use in England, moreso than Ebor, Bangor, or Hereford, and certainly much more than the Roman. So Anglicans can, with solid backing, claim that Sarum is our true heritage. But, in practice, almost all of us are more influenced by the post-conciliar liturgical movement emanating from Rome than anything else. I don’t much care which way we lean, but I do think it’s important to know our real influences, be they historical or personal whim.

  4. Louis Weil says:

    Hi Scott. Actually, I do not want to get into this debate because I find it silly — but I’ll stick my oar in with a couple of observations. First of all there are many different traditions regarding the liturgical colors, so anyone who says one color or another is “the only correct color for … ” must not be aware of the diversity. The BCP certainly has never gotten into this issue, so whatever system may be chosen is operating at a secondary or even tertiary level. I think we can learn from the Orthodox tradition on this question: they use the best vestment for Easter and the great feasts — regardless of color; and then on down the line, and finally an old or worn vestment (whatever the color) for ‘ordinary’ celebrations — to use a current RC word. My own personal thought on the Advent issue is, if possible, to avoid the Lenten parallel — sorry to correct, but this is NOT a penitential season: the AAM published an article by me on this several years ago. On what do I base that? Cf. the frequent use of ‘Alleluia’ in the Advent hymns as a starter; but the early evolution of the calendar confirms that. The idea that it is penitential comes from a time when leaders who were imposing a ‘shape’ on the annual calendar extended Advent to six weeks to make it a parallel to Lent, and thus the penitential prism for Advent was born. In my half-century of teaching I have regularly called for a more accurate interpretation of the Advent season, but the Lenten association seems to hold on — funny, since we have pretty much lost what Lent is about!

  5. faith lang says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post which made me laugh early on a dark Monday morning!
    In particular, I liked “the ghost of Percy Dearmer”

  6. Geoff McLarney says:

    I’m told that at Bl. Percy’s own parish of St Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, the well-worn old yellow set is brought out of retirement when the feast of St Mary Magdalene falls on a Sunday.

    As for rose, the Western Rite Orthodox monastery in my region uses blue on Advent I, II, and IV while keeping Gaudete in rose, so if those who do so are “making it up” they’re in good company. What I don’t get is the retention of the violet and rose wreaths in churches where blue vestments have long been the norm. White would make more sense than mixing: if you’re going to match, match.

  7. relling says:

    Thanks for the narrative. I really didn’t know most of this. I am also empowered for the next time someone gets sniffy about the use of blue instead of purple during Advent.

    Is there a helpful, non-boring guide to Episcopal church history and custom?

  8. Lynne Bleich Weber says:

    Thanks for all the interesting information. Having no liturgical expertise other than an ecumenical seminary and regular parish ministry, I arrived at a parish that already had blue hangings, which are quite pretty and loved by the congregation, and saw no reason to change them! (How’s that for a reason?) Although familiar with the Sarum argument, I also think of the blue as Mary’s color, a color of expectation and hope for the coming birth. (Of course Mary’s liturgical color is white, but any way….) This doesn’t prevent us from beginning Advent with the Great Litany and a more stripped-down ethos that seems appropriate to the propers and the beginning of a new Church Year. So I guess it comes down to more “personal” and “local piety” for me. (Oh, and the candles match…blue…but I like the idea of white.)

  9. Barry McMurtrey says:

    Thank you, Fr. Scott, for an excellent article. I agree with you that this argument boils down to making up historical/liturgical arguments for aesthetic preferences. The fun memory it brings to me are the hours I once spent poring over late 19th C Anglican ritualist apologetics…a series which can best be described as “Percy Dearmer and his Detractors” in which they each took quite seriously the history and order of a whole range of liturgical colors and precedents (including brown). It was hilarious that so much ink and effort could be spent on this. While, I like think Advent is a season both penitential yet quite different from Lent, whatever defines good, old fashion sorrow, penance, and repentance is needed in our society now more than ever,. The days of Advent are first and foremost the season of worshiping Mammon….and the Church says nothing as stores nationally ask families to forgo the act of Thanksgiving with family at the table in order to buy discount on Thanksgiving Day itself. Shame on us all.

  10. I’ve no problem with whatever color, so long as you do not call it “Sarum blue” for Advent. This is just wrong , wrong, wrong.

  11. Stephanie Chase Bradbury says:

    You have relieved my mind greatly! My mother is from Germany and I grew up with red candles in my Advent wreath at home. In seminary I was distraught to discover we were expected to use purple and rose candles. They just don’t look like Advent to me. So at church I would use the “correct” liturgical colors of purple/rose candles, and at home I would guiltily (but happily) use my red candles. It was my secret sin. Since you’ve now explained that colors are not in the BCP, I may flaunt my red candles at home with abandon!

  12. Pegram Johnson III says:

    Friends and fellow admirers of The Parson’s Handbook, for its polemical style if not always its content:
    My seminary friend, now departed, the Rev’d Thom Garner from North Carolina, gave the definitive answer to questions liturgical:
    “The real liturgical reason why is ‘BECAUSE I WANT TO!'” which is behind the stated reason: “It is the ancient custom of the church, blah, blah blah, blah.”

  1. November 25, 2013

    […] Scott Gunn writes at Seven Whole Days: Singing the Sarum blues. […]