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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Colors in the Church Keep Changing - Why Do They Do That?

By Laurits Tuxen (1853-1927) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So, the pastor's stole matches the hangings in the church, and seems to stay the same for weeks at a time.  Doesn't he do his laundry?What's with that?

Traditional churches follow a cycle of seasons called the liturgical year, or church year.  The church year has two major celebrations: Jesus birth (Christmas), and his resurrection (Easter).  In between, are a series of seasons which celebrate key aspects of the life of our Savior.  In effect, Christians walk with Christ through the full cycle of his earthly life, each year.

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Humans are cyclical creatures of habit.  We seem to order our lives around annual cycles.  People have been doing it for ages upon ages.  The Church either co-opted, or harmonized with, (depending upon how one looks at it), this human tendency with the establishment of the liturgical  year.

The seasons in the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Epiphanytide/Ordinary Time, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and then Time of Pentecost/Ordinary Time, are represented by colors.  Each of the various seasons has a different tone and focus, and color changes set the stage and  represent this well.

The colors vary somewhat according to the neighborhood of Christianity in which one resides, but, generally, in Western churches, they are:

Advent (Waiting & Preparation for the Coming of Jesus), (sometimes blue) - beginning of Advent to Dec. 24

Christmas(Rejoicing at the Birth of Jesus) -(sometimes gold)-  Dec. 25-Jan. 5

Epiphany -(sometimes gold) - Jan. 6

Epiphanytide/ Ordinary Time (Focus on the Early Childhood of Christ and his public ministry) - Jan. 7 - beginning of Lent

Lent (Penetential, Preparatory season in preparation for the resurrection) (or Lenten white in sarum use)  - Beginning of Lent - the end of Holy Week

Easter (Celebration of the Resurrection)-(sometimes gold)-Movable Feast, Varies by Year

Pentecost (Celebration of the Coming of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Church)-Seventh Sunday after Easter

Time after Pentecost/ Ordinary Time (Focus on Christ's reign as King of Kings, period between time of the apostles and the second coming) - Day after Pentecost until Day before Advent.

Advent and Lent are shades of purple, but purple doesn't show up on my gold background very well!

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  1. I love the changing of the colors (I have a great appreciation for liturgy in general...part of why I became Catholic in the first place!), but the colors really highlight for me that mindfulness of the passage of time, and that everything has its season.

    I am thinking about ways to incorporate the colors of the liturgical seasons in my home, too (the domestic Church! :) ) I think that Advent, in particular, gets ignored and it's all Christmas Christmas Christmas, which people are tired of by Christmas Day and consider it "over" on December 26th, when it continues until Epiphany! This happens with Lent, too, but not quite to the same extent. Being mindful of the seasons has really helped me appreciate the preparatory aspect of the seasons, and preparing properly makes me appreciate all the more the graces of Christmas and Easter.

  2. In Roman Catholicism, many parishes are lucky enough to have two separate sets of "purple" vestments - one for Advent and one for Lent.

    We typically use "Royal" purple for Advent (since we not only remember the birth of the King, but look forward to His Return at the 2nd Coming) and then "Roman" purple (the lighter variety) for Lent (since the "cheaper" dye used in the early Church days was a reminder that we were to be in the mindset of sacrifice - and we're all about tradition!).

    I'm curious to know if you guys have something like this as well.

    1. It depends on the parish. If the parish has two sets, then, yes, the Advent set is a richer, more saturated shade...more of a purple, while the Lenten set tends more toward a lighter grey leaning violet.

      Some Protestant parishes, especially Lutheran parishes, use blue for Advent and violet for Lent...which REALLY bugs me. (I need to get over this.) =)

      In the oldest, most traditional usage, Anglican array in Lent is "Lenten white" (the color of unbleached linen...which makes sense for this penetential season. It looks like this:,r:30,s:242,i:363

      There is a really interesting discussion of colors of Anglican usage in the Middle Ages here:

      But, in actuality, almost all Anglican and Episcopal parishes follow the modern Roman usage.

    2. Interesting!!! I find this sort of thing absolutely fascinating. I love the "Lenten White" idea.

      But blue... why blue? I assume there has to be significance for this somewhere, but it's lost on me.

      We sometimes use blue, but it's extremely rare and only for special feasts of Our Lady.

    3. From

      "Deep blue is the color of the clear, predawn sky, the color that covers the earth in the hours before the sun rises in the east. Most of us are not looking at the sky at that hour — perhaps we’re still asleep, or too weary to notice it as we get onto the Metro or hop into our car for a long commute.

      Nonetheless, a deep, dark blue is the color that covers us in the dark, cold hours before the sun dawns.

      Thus we use deep blue for Advent to shade the season with a hint of expectation and anticipation of the dawn of Christ"

      I have also heard it said that the blue represents the Blessed Mother as the seat of our Hope during the months before his birth.

    4. Thanks so much for humoring me with this information! I don't think I'd've known where to begin looking for it myself. Thank you!!! :)

      Very interesting idea.

    5. It still REALLY bugs me when parishes use blue. Like I said: I need to get over this.

  3. What a fantastic post! All nuances aside, it is great. It is too funny because we have this Orthodox childrens' song called "colors in the church." It is hip hop style...I think designed for kids who live in the city although my kids have no idea what hip hop is but it's really cute.


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