the pink one

This Sunday will be the third in Advent and those of a churchy nature (well, some at least) will be lighting the pink one, aka the candle for Gaudete, or Rejoice! Sunday.

Contrary to (confused) popular opinion, this is not the one for Mary.

Once upon a time I used to think of pink as a colour for small girls’ tutus, or sugary nougat, or a useful highlighter pen, but since I went into the Church, I’ve become aware of the liturgical weight of pink during Advent (aka ‘rose’).

Advent is really purple – purple altar hanging, purple stole, purple service booklets, if you have them. And purple candles on the Advent wreath. Even those of a medium churchmanship will light the first on Advent Sunday, the second a week after, and then we come to this Sunday, which is, in most Advent candle sets at least, pink.

The confusion arises from a clash of symbolism from two different developments of the Advent themes. A more Catholic tradition would see no flowers in churches during Advent (despite, ironically, Christmas trees going up earlier and earlier). Advent themes are, after all, sombre, being the four themes of heaven, hell, death and judgment. Some clergy attempt to stick to these themes and preach on nothing else during Advent, but with community Carol concerts and suchlike, I would imagine only the hardcore manage it (I must admit I’m already on to fluffy reindeers and how to incorporate them into the Christmas message).

So the pink candle represents a lightening up of Advent sombreness, a kind of ‘keep going, we’re almost there – rejoice!’ and some clergy even wear pink vestments to boot (I admit I haven’t gone this far liturgically, though if someone were to gift me a pink stole, I would not be averse…)

So far, so good. The complication arises in that at the same time as the purple, purple, pink, purple thing, there are also four themes to the lectionary readings developing each Sunday. So:

Sunday 1=the Patriarchs
Sunday 2=the Prophets (NB: this typically features a reading about John the Baptist, but that’s just to catch you out…it’s not his Sunday yet, it’s simply to show that he was in the tradition of the OT prophets).
Sunday 3=John the Baptist
Sunday 4=Mary

And there you have it – the first mention of Mary and everyone does an immediate gender association; Mary – that must mean we light the pink one….? Because, pink for a girl, right? Also, pink vestments are worn by our more Catholic brethren (who venerate Mary) therefore pink=Mary.

You can see it on the faces of Vergers up and down the land – standing over the Advent wreath each week, taper in hand, looking uneasy and trying to work out whether to start at this candle or that, anti-clockwise or clock-wise; is it John the Baptist yet, or Mary? Where exactly are we in the Church calendar and why can’t religious symbolism be a little less complex?

So, for all you C of E aficionados, just to see where you are on the pink scale, feel free to take this small season-specific liturgical/ministerial test.

On a scale of 1-10, how Advent-pink are you?

1. Never even heard of Advent (not recommended).
2. Saw an Advent wreath once on Blue Peter (it’s a start).
3. Love the Advent wreath idea but our church doesn’t go in for it (you’ve saved yourselves a lot of complicated explaining but also missed out on some nice photo opportunities).
4. We have an Advent wreath but I’ve no idea what the candles stand for (good job you’re reading this).
5. All four of our candles are purple (ha!!! possibly more straightforward, but less fun).
6. We have the pink one but I thought it was for Mary (see point 4).
7. We have a pink candle and the pink+John the Baptist clash has always left me feeling mildly liturgically disturbed (me too, as soon as I realised the pink was not for Mary, which happened a full 3 years into ordained ministry).

The last 3, for clergy only:

8. Pink candle; pink stole.
9. Pink candle; pink stole; pink chasuble.
10. Pink candle; pink stole; pink chasuble; pink walls throughout the vicarage.

Wherever you are on the Advent-pink scale, Happy Third Sunday in Advent.

(this post first appeared on in 2015).

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