Well, that might be true in poetry, but is it true in real life? Think about it. How can violets be blue? We all know about ROYGBIV. Clearly violets should not be blue. They should be violet. How does this come to be? How can colors be misnamed in such a way?
It turns out there is a long history of just that when it comes to the color blue. Many of you know Homer used the surprising phrase “wine dark” to describe the color of the sea. The modern reader would certainly choose the color blue or perhaps even green to describe the sea, but “wine dark?” Why not blue? The word “blue” does not appear anywhere in the Iliad or the Odyssey, Homer’s signature works. (That is a little pun as you also know Homer didn’t write anything down…). The absence of the word “blue” was not unique to Homer. It didn’t appear in literature until much later, prompting some to suggest ancient people could not see the color blue. A current theory is that there simply wasn’t a word for blue since it doesn’t occur in nature as frequently as other colors.
This seeming color blindness also appears when blue is used as a liturgical color. Some religious groups simply prohibit its use for vestments. In some cases blue is considered a festive color, while in others blue is considered a penitential color. Yet in others the connotation of blue vestments depends on the hue.
Let’s look at some specific examples:
Blue is not considered a liturgical color in Roman Catholicism (RC). Vestments using blue as its principal color are generally prohibited. Blue trim, galoon, lining, etc. may be used, often as an accent for Marian commemorations where the prescribed liturgical color is white. On these occasions you will generally see white vestments with blue as a secondary color. There are some exceptions to this general rule. Blue vestments may be used with special permission at certain Marian shrines and in Spain and other countries of Spanish heritage for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast was a later definition of Roman Catholic doctrine and perhaps the blue vestment exception was one way to accentuate the importance of this solemnity.
The Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) regards blue as an alternative to purple or violet, during Advent giving it a penitential connotation. (Yes, I know Advent is technically not a penitential season but we know that it is a heightened period of preparation.) RC provides that different shades of purple or violet could be used to differentiate between the Lenten and Advent seasons. Sometimes indigo vestments can be seen during the season of Advent. Blue is not approved for Marian feasts in the PNCC. It is worth noting the PNCC does not accept the Immaculate Conception as defined dogma, but refers to this day as the Conception of the BVM, or a celebration of divine love, rather than a day celebrating the conception of the Virgin Mary without original sin. That is a more complex topic for another day though. The point being this day there is no exception provided for wearing blue vestments.
Eastern Christianity liturgical practice prescribes either dark or light vestments depending on the occasion without a detailed color scheme beyond that. Light color vestments are worn during ordinary times and dark color vestments during penitential seasons and fast days. Blue is often an accepted liturgical color usually employed for Marian feasts or periods associated with Marian feasts. Beyond the general distinction between dark and light vestments, national or regional differences can dictate what color vestments are used. So, in the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States, blue of any shade is considered a bright or festive color. It is common for Byzantine Catholic clergy to wear blue vestments on Sunday through the entire month of August (celebrating the Dormition of the Virgin) and September up to September 14, the Feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Cross, when the entire church pivots to red vestments. As an additional illustration of how national heritage can dictate vestment color, red is always considered a dark color in the BCC. However, red is considered a festive color in Russia (think Red Square!) and worn during weddings and Easter. In other Eastern Christian churches it is not color that matters so much as the hue. So, in these churches dark blue is considered a “dark” vestment color suitable for fast periods, while a lighter shade of blue is considered a “bright” vestment color.
Well, if all of this hasn’t confused you by now, I think this all boils down to a simple rule. Know the vestment rules of the local diocese or eparchy! Perhaps you will see the rubrics require “wine-dark” vestments for some celebrations!