Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lent Day 15: On Vestment Colors and Redemptive Suffering

Hi Leslie!
Long time blog reader, first time question asker!

What's the whole deal with redemptive suffering? What is it? I hear a lot of Catholics say their suffering can be used to redeem others misfortunes, at least that's the way I heard it being communicated. 

Also, what does the church have to say about unnecessary suffering? Why does God allow it. 

Lastly, what's the deal with with black and rose colored vestments? 


Hello, Abraham!

Thanks so much for your questions. The first two are tough ones, so tonight the last shall be first. Then I'll try to give some insight into the Catholic-Christian view of suffering, especially in terms of redemption. Let's begin!

You asked, "what's the deal with with black and rose colored vestments?" First, check out this useful guide to liturgical colors from!



  • Season of Christmas
  • Season of Easter
  • Feasts of the Lord, other than of His passion
  • Feasts of Mary, the angels, and saints who were not martyrs
  • All Saints (1 November)
  • Feasts of the Apostles
  • Nuptial Masses
  • Masses for the dead (Requiem Masses) when the deceased is a baptized child who died before the age of reason
Note: White is the color of Popes' non-liturgical dress. White can be replaced by Silver.

the Passion
God's Love


  • Feasts of the Lord's passion, Blood, and Cross
  • Feasts of the martyrs
  • Palm Sunday
  • Pentecost
Note: Red is the color of Cardinals' non-liturgical dress

the Holy Ghost
life eternal


  • Time After Epiphany
  • Time After Pentecost



  • Season of Advent
  • Season of Septuagesima
  • Season of Lent
  • Rogation Days
  • Ember Days (except for Pentecost Ember Days)
  • Vigils except for Ascension and Pentecost
  • Good Friday
Note: Violet, literally "amaranth red," is the color of Bishops', Archbishops', and Patriarchs' non-liturgical dress



  • All Souls Day
  • Masses for the dead (Requiem Masses), except for baptized children who've died before the age of reason



  • Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent)
  • Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent)



  • Gold can replace white, red, or green (but not violet or black)
So the 'deal' with the rose vestments (outer liturgical garments worn by priests, also known as a 'chausible') is that they represent joy, and the black vestments represent mourning. I have personally never seen the black vestments worn, but I love Gaudete and Laetare Sundays when the priests break out the rose colored vestments! (That's right -- they're not 'pink', they're rose!)

As a side note, blue is not to be regularly used as a liturgical color, with the exceptions of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and some diocese of Spain, Portugal, Mexico, and South America. Blue is not permitted to replace the traditional violet of Advent. 

Alright, now on to the tough stuff: "What's the whole deal with redemptive suffering? What is it? I hear a lot of Catholics say their suffering can be used to redeem others misfortunes, at least that's the way I heard it being communicated. Also, what does the church have to say about unnecessary suffering? Why does God allow it."Yes, Abraham, it is common to hear Catholic-Christians talking about suffering having meaning, or encouraging others to 'offer up' their suffering. Why? What does this all mean? And what sense can be made of 'unnecessary' suffering, especially of the vulnerable and innocent?

When people refer to 'redemptive suffering' they, of course, are first and foremost referring to the suffering of the Redeemer himself, Jesus, who poured out his very life in obedience and offering to God the Father in reparation for the sins of all humanity. When we ask ourselves the question of why the innocent must suffer, we must consider the suffering of Jesus himself to try to make sense of this concept. Why did God the Father send his only Son to earth in human form, only to suffer the most violent and incomprehensible sufferings (of every type -- spiritual, emotional, physical, and even the pains of death and, in the descent into hell, the pain of seeming separation from God)? God could have sent a Savior in any form to redeem us in any way. Shockingly, God chose to send us a Savior as one of us, who would redeem us from our suffering by taking it on himself. And out of the most incomprehensible suffering, and even death on a cross, came the most incomprehensible and undeserved reward -- the grace of salvation, the redemption of humanity, the gift of eternal life. Oh death, where is thy victory? Oh death, where is thy sting?

But if Jesus took all of the suffering on himself, then why must we still suffer? Suffering is fundamentally the risk of love. Suffering for it's own sake is senseless and absurd; the suffering of love is the only thing which makes life ultimately worthwhile.

In Jesus, we see the ultimate risk of love in its most dramatic form -- love not only unrequited, but vehemently spat upon, rejected, reviled, bloodied, lifted on a cross, and laid in a tomb. This is the part of Jesus that many so-called Christians reject, and the part that many cannot understand about Catholics. "Why do you still have Jesus on the Cross when he rose again?"

Jesus Resurrection means little, really nothing, if he did not actually suffer and die. If Jesus was just pretending to be a man the whole time he was on earth, and if his passion and death were all just an act, waiting for the big soap opera moment where we all found out that he was alive the whole time (and doing just fine, sipping margaritas on a remote island, perhaps) then what difference would it make that he came back? But Jesus was truly human. Jesus truly suffered. Jesus really died. And through his Resurrection from the dead, Jesus truly conquered death, and willed for his body to remain on earth (until his second coming) in two powerful ways: first, through the sacrament of the Eucharist (the fruit of the Cross, the new Tree of Life), and secondly, through us, the Church.

In this way, we can get some small glimpse of the meaning of human suffering. We, who live in Christ, no longer must suffer without meaning, for we now live as members of His body and in our sufferings, we mysteriously participate in the redemption of the whole world. On our own merits, our lives and sufferings ain't no thing but a chicken wing. But in Jesus, our lives and sufferings take on infinite merit, eternal significance, and unimaginable value.This is part of what people mean when they talk about 'offering up' their sufferings, or offering their sufferings to alleviate the misfortunes of others -- that as Christians, we have the ultimate hope that the Good Fridays of our lives will result in an Easter Sunday not only for ourselves, but for others as well; that our salvation and redemption is not just personal but communal (we're saved in bunches!); that when we suffer, we trust that God will make use of that suffering as He sees fit in His providential design for all humanity.

How do we 'offer up' our sufferings and unite them with Christ's? Surely, I'll spend a lifetime trying to learn. But this is what the Christian journey asks, or rather demands of us -- that we not allow the suffering of love to make our hearts grow hard, but rather to continually offer our entire lives to the Father in return for all He has given us, and that even in the face of the most incomprehensible tragedies and misfortunes we can re-echo the words of Job, who said, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

I'd like to close with a passage from Blessed John Paul II's "On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering", which I recommend reading in full. It is the best treatment of this topic I have read and pondered.

24. Nevertheless, the Apostle's experiences as a sharer in the sufferings of Christ go even further. In the Letter to the Colossians we read the words which constitute as it were the final stage of the spiritual journey in relation to suffering: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church". And in another Letter he asks his readers: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?".

In the Paschal Mystery Christ began the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice—sacramentally through the Eucharist—the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer. The words quoted above from the Letter to the Colossians bear witness to the exceptional nature of this union. For, whoever suffers in union with Christ— just as the Apostle Paul bears his "tribulations" in union with Christ— not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to but also "completes" by his suffering "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions". This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ's sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world.
Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed inhuman suffering. In this dimension—the dimension of love—the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ's redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.
Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world's Redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this Redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ's suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church—that body which completes in itself also Christ's crucified and risen body—indicates at the same time the space or context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of "what is lacking" in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of "completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church".
It is precisely the Church, which ceaselessly draws on the infinite resources of the Redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, which is the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. This also highlights the divine and human nature of the Church. Suffering seems in some way to share in the characteristics of this nature. And for this reason suffering also has a special value in the eyes of the Church. It is something good, before which the Church bows down in reverence with all the depth of her faith in the Redemption. She likewise bows down with all the depth of that faith with which she embraces within herself the inexpressible mystery of the Body of Christ.
 I hope this has been helpful. As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.
Peace and all good,

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