Well, it’s actually the rose candle. But I digress.
What does the pink candle signify? When do we light the pink candle? Why is one of the Advent wreath candles pink?
I love to hear such liturgical questions, as one of my missions is to help us all better understand the Christian story through our worship, music, symbolism, and practices. Our lives are made better and we help spread the Gospel throughout the world by practicing our faith with intent.
Firstly, we need to briefly mention Advent purple vs. Advent blue. Purple is the traditional color used by the Roman Catholic Church for the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent, and most Protestants who follow a liturgical tradition use this color as well.
For centuries purple has had associations with royalty or wealth. Dye for cloth was expensive, and purple was just about the deepest color, requiring the most dye. In the Bible, Lydia was “a seller of purple” (Acts 16)
Purple in Advent heralds the coming of the King to reign upon the earth, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In Lent purple lifts up the crucifixion, resurrection, and sovereignty. Also in Lent, purple signifies mourning, pain, and suffering.
Sarum Blue, as used by some Episcopal parishes for Advent, comes from the Sarum liturgical rites, many of which we follow. “Sarum” is the medieval name for Salisbury, the ancient city with its great cathedral.
Blue is also the color historically associated with the Virgin Mary. Many Renaissance and Baroque paintings depict Mary the Mother of Our Lord in a blue robe or veil.
Advent has been traditionally thought of as a “mini Lent,” which ties the seasons of Advent and Lent together with purple. In more contemporary times, the Advent season has been viewed as more “preparatory” rather than “penitential.” Using the Anglican Sarum rite, therefore, gives us different symbolic colors, blue for Advent and purple for Lent.
So, what about the pink candle?
Pink, or more liturgically specific “rose,” is a lightened hue of purple and is used by some Anglican parishes on Advent III and Lent IV, sometimes known as “Mid-Lent” or “Refreshment Sunday” or “Mothering Sunday.”
In Advent, the third Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday¸which comes from the antiphon with the Magnificat canticle in Vespers: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete (“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice”). Worshippers will hear these very words read in the Philippians reading from our lectionary readings this Sunday morning (Dec. 13, Advent III).
Gaudete Sunday is a “lifting of the penitential veil” in the midst of the Advent season. In addition to the pink candle, Anglo-Catholic parishes will use the rose set of vestments and paraments for the clergy and the altar.
Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent is also a “lifting of the penitential veil” just before the depth and focus of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. There are no specific candles associated with Lent, but Anglo-Catholic parishes will also use the rose set of vestments on this Lenten Sunday as well.
For Episcopal parishes that use Sarum blue for Advent, with blue candles in their Advent wreath, should the rose candle, the lightened hue of purple, even be used? Perhaps not, and I have many liturgical colleagues who make this point to me every year.
However, I like the pink/rose candle. It reminds me that rejoicing is an Advent image, along with all of the waiting, anticipation, and paring away of the excesses.
And as I type this, just to help further the point, I am wearing a pink bow tie. Gaudete!
For further reading and discussion about Advent purple and blue, read longtime friend and colleague the Reverend Barrie Bates' blog: