Black Vestments: A Catechesis on the Last Things

Authored by Brian Schnell in Issue #5.4 of The Catechetical Review

On November 2, the Church commemorates the Feast of All Souls. In contrast to the Feast of All Saints the day before, the All Souls liturgy remembers all who have died, not just the saints in heaven. As such, it is a much more somber occasion. After all, many souls will never be saints in heaven: they have elected an eternity separate from the love of God and must therefore suffer the torments of hell. But even though “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost” (Mt 18:14), the punishment of hell is both righteous and just. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis called the damned self-enslaved—their doors to eternity are locked from the inside. Love, even and especially God’s love, can never be forced. Thus, we ultimately do not mourn or pray for the conversion of souls in hell, for they would not want God even if they could have him.

There are those, however, that will never suffer eternal torture. They thirst painfully for God but have not yet achieved their heavenly reward. These souls have died in God’s friendship but must still be refined in the furnace of affliction (cf. Is 48:10): they must pay the temporal punishment for their sins. These are the Church Suffering, the holy souls in purgatory. It is chiefly them we remember in our prayers and in the sacrifice of the Mass on All Souls Day.

Coloring Our Faith

There is a maxim in the Church which states, “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Summarized in the Catechism, “the law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays” (par. 1124). Whether we realize it or not, vestments are part of that “concrete mode of catechesis,” which Pope St. John Paul II named as a function of sacred art. The style, the symbols, the color…these are all elements of sacred vestments which convey a subtle visual theology to all those participating in the Lord’s Supper. When it comes to Masses for those who have died, the visual prayer of the priest’s vestments can influence how we move forward in faith after the death of a loved one.

Regarding the color of sacred vestments, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says this:

Besides the color violet, the colors white or black may be used at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America (#346e).

Yes, in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, black is an acceptable and legitimate liturgical color for funerals and Masses for the Dead (including All Souls).

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

Editor's Reflections: Leisure – God's Plan for Us
By Colleen Rainone
Free “ Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” How often people have said this with a wry smile as they cope with an untimely interruption to their well-ordered (or not-so-ordered), scheduled events. This phrase came to mind again, when Editor James Pauley informed me that he was losing his battle with a persistent cold, which developed... Read more
The Spirit of Leisurely Catholicism
By James Gaston
Free When I happened to mention to my wife that I was writing an essay about leisure, the following dialogue took place: Wife: “You can’t do that.” Me: “Why not?” Wife: “You don’t know anything about it. You’re working at something all the time.” Me: “That is somewhat true, but leisure isn’t really about what one does when one is not working. It’s... Read more
El espíritu católico del descanso
By James Gaston
Introducción Cuando le comenté a mi esposa que estaba escribiendo un ensayo acerca del descanso, se suscitó el siguiente diálogo: Esposa -No lo puedes hacer.- Yo -¿Por qué no?- Esposa -No sabes nada acerca de eso. Estás siempre trabajando en algo.- Yo -Hay algo de cierto en lo que dices, pero el descanso no trata precisamente de lo que se hace... Read more

Pages

Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now