Black Vestments

I noted Anne’s comment about seeing Bishop Kevin in splendid black vestments on Wednesday at Millport and it got me thinking about the wearing of black vestments here.

I’ve tended to be lucky in that I’ve been in a couple of churches which have black vestments and which I very happily wear for the requiem on All Souls’ Day and also sometimes at individual requiem Eucharists if that is the format of a funeral.

Some people get very twitchy about this and think that the right thing to do is to don Easter gladrags and wear gold to proclaim the resurrection.

It seems to me that most black vestments say something quite profound – they usually have gold or white or silver orphreys and that glimpse of resurrection trimming the black seems to me far more apt.

I think that the black vestments on All Souls’ Day say that we are unafraid of acknowledging that we are all touched by the rawness of grief; that we all stand alongside one another, frail and at times overwhelmed. It seems to me important to say by word and deed and even clothing that the church proclaims the love of God at the times when we feel least able to perceive it.

I call the congregation to mourn on All Souls’ Day.

There were tears.

And they were good tears. And we recognised that those who have died are held in the hand of God.

At the end of the service I also called the congregation to move on. To let the dead be dead and to live in the light of the resurrection. Several people have said to me that was a turning point moment in the way they are thinking about someone they have lost.

At the end of the service, we did change the mood. After all the mourning, we sang in a rather triumphant and defiant way in the face of death an appropriately upbeat hymn:

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race
and now, from sin released,
behold your Saviour’s face,
his praises sound,
as in his sight
with sweet delight
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly King,
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still,
through good or ill,
who ever lives!



  1. I agree with this wholeheartedly–the hope shines through the grief but you can’t airbrush grief, such a vital part of our human experience. I remember a terrible row about black vestments during my abortive training for the Pisky priesthood [circa 1972] when I was in a minority of about two in favour. The other ordinand on the side of sable vestments later took my father’s funeral wearing a black stole with large silver crosses. It spoke to what we felt.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Yes – and for my Requiem Eucharist I dearly hope it is black vestments and the congregation in black and dark colours. Sad as I may be that they are sad, how much worse would it be if they were happy to see me go.

  3. fr dougal says

    Quite agree! White is for kids – purple is acceptable. But black and gold is best.

  4. Hurrah! Easily the second-best Vestment colour, and the Joy Division’s Atmosphere of liturgical dress.
    Still maintain they should be accessorised with black eyeliner tho 😉

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