Cerulean for the Immaculate

La Inmaculada Concepción
La Inmaculada Concepción | Francisco de Zurbarán | 1628–1630

The Philippine Islands this coming Friday, 8 December, shall again exercise her privilege of using cerulean vestments for all Masses in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in all churches, chapels, and oratories. Saint Pius X granted this indult on 11 February 1910 at the request of the Fathers of the First Provincial Council of Manila.

After Mass, we are to renew the consecration of the Philippines to the Immaculate Mother of God.

Ordo - December 8

Cerulean is indeed a very beautiful and unique colour. The privilege to use it has been extended and, theoretically, can still be extended to only a few countries and places, mostly within the Spanish ambit, or formerly under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Crown [1]. Some monasteries outside the Spanish world in general petitioned and succeeded in securing permission to use cerulean, yet the indult was predicated on the communities’ ability to prove that it had links with Spain [2].

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Precisely because the colour is unique in that it is strikingly Marian, many in the EF use it not only on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, but on practically all feasts of the Blessed Virgin! Pecca fortiter, as they say. Pure art and sound aesthetics has never been the sole consideration for using a particular colour at Mass. There are laws that govern the liturgy. While it has been practically shown otherwise (not without our horror and consternation), we must ensure that the quality and artistic value of the vestments are not above Roman authority. We can contribute to this goal by requesting permission first before using cerulean.

Somehow, the situation is complicated by the unavailability of the text of the original decree which was withdrawn from official publication to prevent other countries outside the ambit of the Spanish Realm from daring to request similar privileges, as far as the use of cerulean vestments in the feast of the Immaculate Conception is concerned [3].

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Those possessing no indult can in the meantime use white with cerulean ornaments. Care, however, must be taken not to cover the base white fabric with too many decorations. Remember the precedence established by the Palafox affair: The archbishop of Seville, Don Jaime de Palafox y Cardona, complained to the Sacred Congregation of Rites about a set of vestments—made of silk, in a field of white, outlined in cerulean with golden flowers—used by the cathedral chapter for the Immaculate Conception; having seen the chasuble sent by the chapter to Rome, the Congregation declared that the vestments cannot be used because cerulean is not a liturgical colour [4]. Cerulean was used only as outlines to the white vestments, and yet Rome considered the set unabashedly cerulean! Indeed, moderation will work wonders in no-indult cases.

In the end, we have to understand why the original decree was withdrawn from publication. There is a simple explanation why cerulean is not universally approved for Marian feasts: While its use in the liturgy has been attested in the first centuries of Christianity [5], its liturgical use in the Latin Rite in connection with the Mother of God cannot be traced back earlier than the 15th century [6]. The editors of the EL tellingly writes: S. R. C. legis observantiam peroptat [7]. This means that the Sacred Congregation of Rites strongly preferred observance of the law.

Legal matters aside, let us salute each other on Friday ¡Ave, María Purísima!, with the response ¡Sin pecado concebida!

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.


[1] Sacred Congregation of Rites, Ordinary and Extraordinary Faculties of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (7 September 1903): ASS 36 (1903–4) 418.
[2] Peter Anson, Blue vestments: Liturgical Arts 29 (1960) [64]–[65].
[3] Amedeo Mancini, M. A., Solutio ad quaestionem solvendam pro mense maio 1900, at footnote 1 (concerning the decree of 12 February 1884): EL 14 (1900) 352–356.
[4] Simón de la Rosa y López, Los seises de la catedral de Sevilla (1904) 294–295.
[5] Germán Prado, O. S. B., Historia del rito mozárabe y toledano (Burgos, 1928) 107.
[6] Peter Anson, ibid.
[7] Amedeo Mancini, M. A., ibid.

7 thoughts on “Cerulean for the Immaculate

  1. The Ordo says that “Cærul. (et in defectu) Alb.” is to be used in the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Does this mean that cerulean is to be preferred over white whenever available, and one shouldn’t really use white when cerulean is available? Or am I just reading it too much? 😂

    In any case a belated happy feast of the Immaculate Conception to you! ¡Ave María purísima sin pecado concebida!

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    1. The instruction says: Use cerulean; if it is not available, use white.

      Regarding the questions, we first qualify what constitutes a ‘defectus paramentorum coloris’. Absence of cerulean vestments is one such defect; in which case, the only option is to use white vestments. However, defect also means this way: there are cerulean vestments but these are tattered, soiled, and ugly; in which case, it would be more honourable to use white vestments instead.

      If we are dealing with a case involving a set of cerulean vestments that is as beautiful and noble as a separate set of white vestments, then we adhere to the opinion that cerulean is to be preferred over white. If we are dealing with a case involving an old set of cerulean vestments on the verge of disintegration, then it would be wise and more congruent to the dignity of the Liturgy to use a good set of white vestments instead.

      This is our opinion. We nonetheless admit that, reading Fray Ylla on this subject, we find no concrete argument that the privilege is preceptive (mandatory) per se. Considering that this privilege was obtained by Filipino bishops for the entire archipelago, departure from the custom, for reasons other than the unavailability of noble and honourable cerulean vestments, should be consulted with the Ordinary first.

      Case in point: La Habana, Cuba. When the bishop received the indult on 8 May 1862, he immediately ordered all the parishes within his jurisdiction to procure cerulean vestments, through a letter dated 13 August 1862. This highlights the intention to use cerulean in all possible and permitted Liturgies. We can assume that the bishop would not have liked any of his priests using white on 8 December 1862 if cerulean had already been available.

      On a related note, the universal mood surrounding the cerulean debate currently is not keeling towards the white-over-cerulean camp. If photos of Marian feasts were any indication, it is the other way around. Priests are more concerned about wearing cerulean even if they are in a country that does not enjoy the privilege.

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  2. Thank you so much for the enlightening reply. I will try to keep that in mind.

    With regards to the last paragraph of your reply, I must say that I agree very much. In these days priests assigned in places not enjoying the indult, very liturgically-minded ones too in my estimation, really want and do wear cerulean vestments. While I do not like to play psychic, I sometimes think that this trend points to a more general concession to the use of cerulean vestments in the future. I can’t say that it is a good thing, but I can’t say the opposite either.

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    1. Until such general concession is granted, every use of cerulean outside the legitimate privilege is an abuse, and every attempt to commit such abuse comes across as an attempt to muscle Rome to grant said concession. It is, after all, a recurring trope nowadays. When Catholics encounter difficulty in following the rules, the Vatican clears the path for them to be at peace with their conscience. It would be surprising, but not inconsistent, if such charity were to be applied to the cerulean affair.

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    1. siniculus

      It does not imply. The norms are quite clear in their wording. Anything done in excess of what they permit—such as today’s common use of cerulean vestments for other Marian feasts—constitutes abuse. That said, if the Holy See wanted to allow its widespread use, it could have just issued an omnibus indult to legalise the use of cerulean for all Marian feasts. But it has not done so, and has remained silent on the subject. What we have so far are condemnations of its use in any other situation except where the Spanish privilege prevails.

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  3. spuyangoren

    Thank you for the response. Although I just read from the Ordo that the “local Ordinary may grant permission that in all Masses in honor of the BVM, blue vestment be used.” Could this be due to the background of the liturgists who were the editors of the ordo? By saying “background” I refer to their modernist perspective. If that’s the case, then the Philippine Church really has a big problem because abuses are “permitted” by the authorities

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