Cerulean, as a liturgical colour in Spain, is very ancient. The rite of Iberia placed under Muslim rule, what is now called the Mozarabic Rite, used such a colour. The Church of Toledo did not have the same liturgical colours as did the Church of Rome. The latter, as we now observe, accepts only five liturgical colours: white for great and exuberant feasts, black for death and mourning, red for martyrs and the Holy Ghost, purple for penitence, and green for the rest of the year. It allows gold (not yellow) to substitute for white, and rose (not pink) to tone down purple on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Lent.
The Church of Toledo, on the other hand, used red for Epiphany and its octave; green for Saint John the Baptist and the procession of palms; cerulean for Trinitytide and Whitsuntide and the Sundays after Pentecost; grey or bluish purple for Lent from Ash Wednesday to Passion Sunday, inclusive; black from Passion Sunday, exclusive, until Easter, exclusive; white for the consecration of the chrism and the washing of feet, and Holy Saturday; and all colours on All Saints’ Day. These colours were kept in the chapel reserved solely for the celebration of the Mozarabic Rite in the cathedral of Toledo. The introduction, however, of the Missale mixtum necessitated changes in the liturgical life of the chapel, and the other five churches where the Mozarabic Rite was preserved, to the point that the encroachment of the Roman Rite in Spain completely disfigured—although it did not completely destroy—the primitive rite of the Spaniards.
Privilege of Seville
The first link we have between cerulean and the Immaculate Conception is in the cathedral of Seville. In 1690, the new archbishop of Seville, Don Jaime de Palafox y Cardona, initiated a long and arduous feud with the cathedral chapter, concerning certain customs and practices proper to the latter. He submitted a series of dubia to different dicasteries in Rome, with an ulterior motive of abolishing certain peculiarities of the cathedral chapter (for example, the dance of the seises, the use of white in funerals, the precedence of the dean over the provisor, etc.). On account of the 144 dubia he single-handedly instigated, unprecedented and unmatched at that time and even in ours, the archbishop of Seville is called el hombre de los mil pleitos, literally, the man of the thousand lawsuits. Amongst these dubia is one which concerns an ancient set of vestments used by the chapter during the feast and within the octave of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin.
Whether it is lawful for the chapter of Seville to establish a sixth colour in the Church, for it useth the ceru-lean colour on the day and in the octave of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin.Doubtful afterwards of the formulation of the dubium, he sent a revised version, saying:
Whether it is lawful for the chapter of Seville to make use of the cerulean colour or an almost cerulean col-our on the day and in the octave of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin.The canons of Seville sent a piece of the fabric from the vestments to aid the dicastery in its deliberations. The archbishop, however, questioned the authenticity of the piece, so the canons sent the whole chasuble to Rome.
The litigation was resolved in favour of the archbishop, and the Sacred Congregation decreed that the cerulean colour is not lawful in the Church, but exposed ornaments and their likenesses are.
It would take almost 200 years before the aforementioned set of vestments would gain for the chapter of Seville one of its greatest triumphs. On 28 November 1819, Pope Pius VII, at the request of the then incumbent archbishop of Seville, Cardinal Francisco Javier Cienfuegos Jovellanos, a great devotee of the Immaculate Conception, issued a brief to Seville, conceding to the cathedral of Seville the singular use of cerulean vestments on the feast and in the octave of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin. Such singular and peerless privilege would be for many years a mark upon the chapter of Seville, recognising its solemn faith and immense love for the sublime mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
For many years, Seville honoured this privilege by never wavering in her dedication and devotion to the cause of the Immaculate Conception. Where would you find an entire citizenry that turned against a Dominican preacher and the entire convent to which he belonged, interrupted the sermon by walking out of Mass and singing praises to the Immaculate Mother of God, upon learning that the preacher refused to pronounce the traditional incipit of Spanish sermons Ave, María Purísima, sin pecado concebida in order to register his reservations against the mystery ? Only in Seville. The entire Spanish realm, in its part showed its great support for the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Where would you find ancient Catholic universities that required their graduates to swear to proclaim and defend the Immaculate Conception with their lives , or a monarch who established an order whose colours are cerulean and white, naturally, in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and whose members are obliged to defend the dogma of the Immaculate Conception even unto death ? Only in Spain.
Privilege of the Spanish Realm
It is with no wonder, therefore, that when Pope Pius IX promulgated the bull Ineffabilis Deus on 8 December 1854, and the years immediately succeeding it, the entire Spanish Realm was swept into superlative exultation. The year electricity came to the Philippines, the first electric lights were lit on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and la insigne, muy noble y siempre leal ciudad de Manila in Intramuros, the whole Walled City from the Puerta de Santa Lucía to the Puerta Real and from the Puerta del Parián to the Puerta de Isabel II, celebrated the Immaculate Conception until the end of December, goodbye Christmas and all. That momentous day in the history of the Church, when the purity of the Deipara was solemnly defined, her preservation from all stain of original sin from the first instance of her natural existence was declared dogma of the faith, marked the dissipation of the privilege throughout the Spanish Realm.
Other places outside the Peninsula followed suit. On 8 May 1862, the Sacred Congregation of Rites granted the request made by the bishop of San Cristóbal de la Habana in Cuba, Don Francisco Fleix Soláns, to Pope Pius IX to use cerulean vestments on the feast and in the octave of the Immaculate Conception, as well on all votive Masses of the same. On 13 August 1862, pursuant to this concession, the bishop ordered the procurement of ornaments and furnishings of the cerulean colour in all churches within his see, in accordance with the means of individual parishes. Likewise, on 25 September 1891, the Sacred Congregation of Rites acceded to the requests of the archbishop of Arequipa in Peru, Don Juan María Ambrosio Huerta Galván, made to Pope Leo XIII to extend the privilege of the cerulean vestments to the see of Arequipa. Moreover, the acts and decrees of the Fifth Provincial Council of Mexico declare in decree 448 that:
Amongst us, paraments of the cerulean colour, on account of an apostolic indult, can be used in Masses of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in churches wherein the privilege is granted by the ordinary.It appears that the Holy See intended to grant the privilege of the cerulean colour only to the Spanish realm and to all her former possessions, and that prior to enjoying the privilege, a concession should be first be secured from Rome. This was made very clear on 7 September 1903, when Pope Saint Pius X approved the faculties of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Amongst the ordinary faculties that were approved for the Congregation was the faculty to permit of the use of cerulean vestments in the festive and votive Masses of the Immaculate Conception for the Spanish Realm—and this the text highlights—and for places currently and formerly subjected to it.
In fact, all other use of the cerulean colour outside the Spanish Realm was prohibited by the Sacred Congregation of Rites. A rescript to Avezzano on 12 November 1831, answering a question whether the custom of many churches to replace white, red, green and purple vestments with vestments of the yellow colour or mixed with flowers of different colours could be continued, declared that the rubric pertaining to the colour of paraments should be strictly obeyed. To a dubium sent from Verona, asking if yellow or cerulean could be used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the Congregation answered on 16 March 1833 in the negative. Finally, when the Oblates of the Blessed Virgin asked if cerulean could be used instead of white in the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or rather instead of purple (probably for vigils), the Congregation issued a rescript on 23 February 1839, responding in the negative, and declaring the use of cerulean worthy of elimination on account of being an abuse.
The papal brief and the decrees quoted earlier pertaining to Spain cannot in fact be found in the official publications of the Sacred Congregation of Rites. The famous decree 4083, for that matter, which purportedly authorised the use of cerulean to all provinces of Spain, cannot be threshed out of the authentic decrees of the said dicastery. [Note: There are two sets of decree numbers in the authentic decrees of the Congregation appearing in the compilation of Gavanto, one set in boldface, another in parentheses. If we follow the normal numbering, decree 4083 is a rescript that declares the use of purple for the Mass in the vigil of the Immaculate Conception. If we follow the parenthetical numbers, the parenthetical decree 4083 should appear between decree 2342 (4082) issued on 21 March 1739 and decree 2343 (4083) issued on 9 May 1739.] They are nonetheless existing, and the dates are available. We adhere to the opinion that these decrees were 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. In the absence of clarity, what has come down to us concerning the use of cerulean in the Spanish Realm is that it is an apostolic privilege.
Singular privilege of the Immaculate Conception
The Holy See intended to grant the privilege only for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. One of the many dubia resolved between 1895 and 1896 (the EL does not publish the date), the Sacred Congregation of Rites answered a dubium from Arequipa, asking whether the privilege granted on 25 September 1891 covered both clergies subjected to and exempted from the jurisdiction of the ordinary; that is, both secular and regular clergies.
Having thereafter resolved the dubium from Arequipa, another dubium, sent to us from Ecuador, speaketh a relation, which we hence attach to this. It asketh whether the cerulean colour permitted for the feast of the Immaculate Conception (8 December) and throughout the octave, as well as for the votive Masses of the same Immaculate Conception, mayeth be supposed to be extended also to the other two feasts, which come forth, namely, the feast of the Apparition and Manifestation of the same Immaculate Mother of God. We respond in the affirmative: because on one hand, the object of these feasts and of the feast of the Immaculate Conception is the same; on another, when the Sacred Congregation of Rites might have conceded the aforementioned privilege in the very votive Masses of the Immaculate Conception, it becometh known well enough, that it is to be conceded as extended, on account of the good will of the legislator, to all feasts that observe the same mystery. And yet of this sort are the feasts of the Apparition and Manifestation, of which above; therefore.Years later, the Congregation would renege. On 15 February 1902, the Congregation would definitively prohibit the use of the cerulean colour on the feasts of Our Lady of Lourdes and of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Here we reproduce the rescript in its entirety, including the note from the Congregation, explaining their position once and for all.
DUBIUMconcerning to what extent the apostolic indult for the Spanish Realmto use sacred vestments of the cerulean colour, etc.
It was demanded from the Sacred Congregation of Rites, whether the apostolic indult, which is customarily granted to the Spanish Realm, whereby sacred vestments of the cerulean colour mayeth be used as often as either the festive or the votive Mass of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God is celebrated, mayeth also include the Masses of the Apparition of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Lourdes, and the Manifestation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary of the Medal, known as Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal? And the same Sacred Congregation, upon the relation of the undersigned Secretary, having obtained the vote of the Liturgical Commission, did decree to be written in response: In the negative. And thus it replied on 15 February 1902.
D. Card. FerrataPrefect of the S. C. R.
L. † S.
† Diomede PaniciTitular Archbishop of Laodicea, Secretary
If both the festive and votive Masses of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God for the Spanish Realm use by indult the cerulean colour, from what cause both the festive and votive Masses of the Apparition of the Immaculate Mother of God, known as Our Lady of Lourdes, and of the Manifestation of the same Immaculate Mother of God, known as Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal should not use the same colour? Is it not that both of these feasts are of the Immaculate Conception, so that many might have been found guilty of interchanging the Office and Mass of one with the other? Is it not therefore by law that an affirmative response should have been applied to the proposed dubium? Is it not therefore that an opposite negative response seemeth less coherent?
Behold the difficulty which the readers could possibly obviate, and how much more those who proposed the dubium, assessing carefully the negative response. Whereas from the other side it was observed: a) Five, not many, be the colours of precept of the Roman Church, to be used in sacred vestments, white, red, green, purple, black (Rubr. Gen. Missal. Tit XVIII, n 1); therefore, the cerulean colour remaineth outside the law, b) When, therefore, the Spanish Realm maketh use of the cerulean colour by a unique privilege, the negative response should not be strange. For privileges only concede as much as they express, especially in this present case, which is certainly against common law, and therefore the privilege is subjected to strict interpretation, c) Furthermore, even if the Apparition and the Manifestation of the Immaculate Mother of God may harken back to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, they nevertheless differ greatly from it, having weighed carefully the feasts. For the feast of the Immaculate Conception harkeneth back to the preservation of the Mother of God from all stain of original sin: while in other respects the latter two have as their object the apparition or manifestation of the same Immaculate Mother of God, which in the former feast certainly cannot be included, d) At most the Sacred Congregation of Rites could have extended the privilege of the cerulean colour to these two feasts. Whereas privileges per se, however, could not be extended from one case to another, and not by its own authority did the Sacred Tribunal decree to do it, but willed it to be rooted in common law.
On account of these, the Spanish Realm should rejoice in the concessions, celebrating in the cerulean colour the Masses of the Immaculate Conception, not only on her feast day, but also on other days, during which votive Masses are allowed; but from this colour, in all other feasts of the Immaculate Mother of God, either already granted, or could be granted in the future, shall make use of the white colour, in accordance with common law, as it were in the rest of the Church.
Privilege of the Philippines
Finally, it appears that merely being a part of Spain or being one of her former colonies does not favour presumption of privilege. The fact that Pope Saint Pius X defined the permission to grant the privilege of the cerulean colour as among the ordinary faculties of the Sacred Congregation of Rites suggests that a petition must be made first before its use becomes canonically licit. The succession by which the distinct provinces in Spain or her former colonies obtained the privilege favours this very position: Toledo in 1854, San Cristóbal de la Habana in 1862, Arequipa in 1891, and so on and so forth.
From the Audience with His Holinesson 11 February 1910
Indults and privileges grantedto the Philippine Islandsat the request of the Fathers of the Council of Manilaasking for them.
The Most Reverend Fathers of the First Provincial Council of Manila, with humble prayers to His Holiness, our Lord Pius, by Divine Providence, Pope X, presented their requests in the following tenor, viz.
XX. That that He mayeth deign to grant the privilege of using vestments of the cerulean colour in either Solemn Masses or Low Masses of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin Mary in all churches of our region.
Hereafter, His Holiness, with me the Cardinal Secretary of State referring, with the heedful extension to the Philippine Islands not only of the Constitution Trans Oceanum of Leo XIII, of blessed memory, as in the decree published on 1 January of the present year, but also of the nine privileges which were confirmed for a period of ten years to Latin America on 1 January of the present year, ordered to be responded:
To XX. For grace, with the rubrics and decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites preserved.
All things to the contrary, even those worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.
Given in Rome, on the day, month, and year aforementioned.
Let us examine Fray Ylla on how this indult should be applied to the Philippines: First, the privilege is perpetual, because it does not indicate a time of duration. In accordance with canon 70 of the 1917 CIC: “A privilege, unless otherwise indicated, is to be considered perpetual.” (Cf. canon 78 §1, 1983 CIC: “A privilege is presumed to be perpetual, unless the contrary is proved.”) From the time, therefore, of its concession on 11 February 1910, up to the present time and into the future, the Philippines retains the right to use cerulean vestments for the Masses celebrated in honour of the Immaculate Conception.R. Card. Merry del ValSecretary of State
Second, the privilege is granted for the entire Philippine archipelago. This is possible because the privilege was not granted only to a particular diocese, which, if be the case, would necessitate another petition of privilege from the part of a newly-created diocese. The Fathers of the First Provincial Council of Manila requested that the privilege should be extended to “all churches of our region,” in the original Latin, omnibus ecclesiis nostrae regionis. As such, the privilege is extended to all ecclesiastic provinces of the Philippines, currently existing at that time, and to be erected in the future.
Third, the privilege applies to all churches in the Philippines, be they regular or secular, be they parochial or particular. Regular churches are those which are linked to a particular religious order; whereas secular churches are those which are under the secular or diocesan clergy. Fray Ylla believes that the privilege also applies to public oratories, by virtue of canon 1191 §1: “Public oratories are governed by the same law which governeth churches.” The same, he says, can be said of semipublic oratories, by virtue of canon 1193: “In semipublic oratories, lawfully erected, all divine offices and ecclesiastic functions can be celebrated, unless the rubrics may oppose or the ordinary removed some.” However, the privilege cannot be presumed to be granted upon private oratories. In the 1983 CIC, the distinction between public and semipublic oratories is eliminated, and private oratories are called private chapels.
Fourth, the privilege can be used in all Masses, provided they are offered in honour of the Immaculate Conception, be they Solemn High Masses, Sung Masses, or Low Masses. The wording of the petition is clear: “in either Solemn Masses or Low Masses of the Immaculate Blessed Virgin Mary.” In the original Latin, we have: in Missis Beatae Mariae Virginis Immaculatae, sive solemnibus, sive privatis. And the concession from Pope Saint Pius X neither modified nor contradicted this clause.
Finally, the privilege applies to all Masses celebrated in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of her Immaculate Conception. This includes (1) the feast of the Immaculate Conception, (2) all the eight days within its octave (which has been suppressed already by Pope Pius XII), and (3) all votive Masses for the Immaculate Conception, where the rubrics permit votive Masses. The privilege of the cerulean cannot be used for the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and for the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The clause “with the rubrics and decrees of the Sacred Congregation of Rites preserved,” in Latin, servatis rubricis et decretis Sacrae Rituum Congregationis, is of a general character, and can be found in similar other concessions. Fray Ylla instructs us that this clause means that where there is no dispensation, the rubrics and decrees of the Congregation should be obeyed. In the case of the Our Lady of Lourdes and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, while there is a rescript to Ecuador that allows the use of cerulean in their Masses of the aforesaid Marian feasts, we are bound to keep the rescript of 15 February 1902, which prohibits the use of cerulean in the aforesaid Masses, even if they harken to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.
All photos © Maurice Joseph M. Almadrones
NOTES The incident occurred in the Convento de Regina Angelorum in Seville. On 8 September 1613, feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the prior of the Dominican convent, in his sermon of the day, refused to pronounce the traditional Ave, María Purísima, sin pecado concebida, which greatly angered the people. They stormed out of the church, singing praises to the Immaculate Mother of God. The reaction continued for so many years, and processions were held daily from the Franciscan Convento de San Diego de Alcalá as an act of reparation for the sacrilege pronounced from the pulpit of the Dominican convent, as well as for all the doubts published against the Immaculate Conception.
 The Universities of Salamanca, Valencia, Seville, Valladolid, Oviedo, Compostela, Oñate, Baeza, Alcalá, Osuna, Huesca, Barcelona, Zaragoza, etc. used such an oath, which their professors and graduates pronounced.
 The Order of Charles III, which was sanctioned by the bull Benedictus Deus by Pope Clement XIV on 21 February 1772.
SOURCESFRAY JUAN YLLA, tit. VII. Uso del color azul en las misas de la Inmaculada (20 September 1939): Indultos y privilegios de Filipinas (1940) 26–27.
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, Ordinary and Extraordinary Faculties of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (7 September 1903): ASS 36 (1903–4) 418.
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, Dubium concerning to what extent the apostolic indult for the Spanish Realm to use sacred vestments of the cerulean colour, etc. (15 February 1902): ASS 34 (1901–02) 553–555.
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, Arequipa in Peru: EL 10 (1896) 498–499.
DON SIMÓN DE LA ROSA Y LÓPEZ, Los seises de la catedral de Sevilla (1904) 294–295.
DON GERMÁN PRADO, O. S. B., Historia del rito mozárabe y toledano (1928) 107.
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, 12 November 1831, Avezzano at no. 50 (n. 2682).
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, 16 March 1833, Verona at no. 4 (n. 2704).
SACRED CONGREGATION OF RITES, 23 February 1839, Oblates of the B. V. M. at no. 2 (n. 2788).
FIRST PROVINCIAL COUNCIL OF MANILA, Acts and Decrees, Indults and privileges granted to the Philippine Islands at the request of the Fathers of the Council of Manila asking for them, no. 20: Acta et Decreta Concilii Provincialis Manilani I (1907) 213.
FIFTH PROVINCIAL COUNCIL OF MEXICO, Acts and Decrees, part I Concerning the administration of divine worship and the sacraments, § I Concerning the administration of divine worship, tit. II Concerning matters consecrated to divine worship, ch. III Concerning sacred vessels and vestments, no, 448: Acta et Decreta Concilii Provincialis Mexicani Quinti (1898) 125.
DIOCESE OF SAN CRISTÓBAL DE LA HABANA, Circular no. 113 (13 August 1862): La verdad católica 9 (1862) 353–354.
DON NICOLÁS SILVESTRE BERGIER, ed. DON JOSÉ LLORENTE, Color en los ornamentos eclesiásticos: Suplemento al Diccionario de Teología (1857) 181.
DON NICOLÁS SILVESTRE BERGIER, ed. DON JOSÉ LLORENTE, María Santísima Nuestra Señora: Suplemento al Diccionario de Teología (1857) 560–561.