Throughout the year it would appear to me, as one not versed in the liturgical colours, that ministers change their colours. We have white or gold for those times of great celebration at Christmas and Easter, purple for Advent and Lent, red for Pentecost and finally green for ordinary time. It’s like the Church have one-upped the football clubs and gone for a home, away and European club strip!
Since monastic times the priests have adopted such clothing as they were the principal member of the church who could listen to and forgive sins. The Church at that time possibly utilised its control of the local population, focussing and directing the path of that group of people under the auspices of a Christian faith. Some would call that Christendom. Many would now agree that the period of Christendom has now gone.
The seasons within the Church year denote the different blessings of God throughout the year.
With Advent we have that time of waiting and expectation as we prepare for the wonderful news of a saviour born. Likewise with Lent, that period used historically for preparation of the congregation for baptism, a time when we now all can focus on our lives and the sacrifice made for us all by Christ on the Cross. Both Christmas and Easter are true times of celebration as they are pivotal in the Christian faith: more so in my opinion with Easter. The resurrection of Christ is so critical to our understanding of God’s love for us, everyone single one of us, and the hope that we all can claim as ours with our belief in life eternal. Pentecost is a time of celebration again as we acknowledge that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, encourage us and leads us onwards. For all other times we have ‘ordinary time’. It may sound ordinary but it is a time when we can recall all of what God gives us in our lives, that he never leaves us, always wanting to be there for us whatever the circumstances.
OK. That’s what the Church understands but it still sounds, with the pomp and colour, as the Church is still existing in Christendom. How does this engage with the person in the street?
The Church as a whole still has its fine cathedrals, plus those other cold edifices mixed with the more modern centres. It has its tradition, its liturgy or prayers and statements of faith which comprise a service, such as morning prayer. Its set wording, with its rigid framework, was established many centuries ago, provides stability with many members of the church congregation. It’s unchangeable, fixed, dependable. Dynamic?
Both Anglican and Methodism have ‘footstools’: the Anglican’s have the Richard Hooker three-legged stool formed of scripture, tradition and reason; whereas the Methodist have a latter version with an extra leg of experience. Both include tradition but I wonder how much significance is placed upon this particular leg of the stool?
As we near the end of the season of Advent, I wonder whether the person in the street has noted that it is not yet Christmas. I think that most people have been deluged with Christmas since Black Friday or the 1st December. Thanks to the shops we have had adverts for Christmas since mid November, ever since the first large departmental store’s response to the John Lewis advert. Also note when the Church believes that the season of Christmas finishes? I wonder whether the person in the street feels ‘Christmassy’ in Feb/March?
So does having particular coloured robes and seasons of the Church which don’t resemble the times of the year the vast majority of people celebrate allow engagement with the public by the Church? Are we still harkening for the times of Christendom and not wishing to move forwards?
People will still wish to throng churches for Christingle services, the Carols by Candlelight and the ever-popular Christmas Mass, although there is a mysticism possibly related to these events which is rarely unpacked. This desire to attend the Church at such times of the year, I believe, is founded by a deeper desire for spirituality – a yearning for God, to touch with their inner being and its creator. Do we need the pageantry drawn from the middle ages or more time to listen to those attending? Are the Carols we still sing relevant to our understanding of our faith or do we sing them because of tradition?
The ‘reason for the season’ is still very much Jesus but maybe we need to change the way we celebrate the season(s). Can we do away with the formality of particular coloured cloths and clerical dress, so that those looking at the church can identify with the underlying message through the minister without the demarkation denoted by the red, purple, green, white or gold cassocks and stole? At the end of the day, the football clubs win the trophies and the colour of the kit doesn’t really matter. Here, the Church doesn’t ‘win’, for Jesus has already won.
Can we just focus upon the wonder of the birth of Christ this Christmas, seeking that all may find hope in our Saviour.