Liturgical colours

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A white coloured parament hangs from the pulpit, indicating that the current liturgical season is Christmastide. The fact that the Christ Candle in the centre of the Advent wreath is lit also indicates that Christmas has arrived.

Liturgical colours are those specific colours used for vestments and hangings within the context of Christian liturgy. The symbolism of violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and other colours may serve to underline moods appropriate to a season of the liturgical year or may highlight a special occasion.

There is a distinction between the colour of the vestments worn by the clergy and their choir dress, which with a few exceptions does not change with the liturgical seasons.

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

Post-1969 rubrics[edit]

In the Roman Rite, as reformed by Pope Paul VI, the following colours are used.[1]

Color Obligatory Usage Optional Usage (in lieu of prescribed obligatory colour)
Green
Violet
Rose
White
  • Requiem Masses and offices for the dead where the Conference of Bishops has permitted it.[3]
  • Votive Masses and other Masses where Green is normally used.
Red
  • Red Masses and other votive Masses of the Holy Spirit.
  • Papal funeral (Red is the colour of mourning for popes according to an ancient Byzantine custom)
Black
  • All Souls' Day
  • Requiem Masses

On more solemn days, i.e. festive, more precious, sacred vestments may be used, even if not of the colour of the day. Such vestments may, for instance, be made from cloth of gold or cloth of silver. Moreover, the Conference of Bishops may determine and propose to the Apostolic See adaptations suited to the needs and culture of peoples.[4]

Ritual Masses are celebrated in their proper colour, in white, or in a festive colour. Masses for Various Needs, on the other hand, are celebrated in the colour proper to the day or the season or in violet if they bear a penitential character. Votive Masses are celebrated in the colour suited to the Mass itself or even in the colour proper to the day or the season.[5]

Regional and situational exceptions[edit]

Some particular variations:

  • Blue, a colour associated with the Virgin Mary, is permitted for the feast of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and in some dioceses in Portugal, Mexico, and South America. In the Philippines, it is authorised for all feasts of the Virgin Mary, a practice followed in some other places without official warrant. There have also been unauthorised uses of blue in place of violet for the season of Advent,[6] as a symbol of expectation and hope—the blue of a new day.
  • White or cloth of gold was traditionally used for the Novena from 16 to 24 December according to a Spanish custom abolished in that country in the 1950s, but still widely observed in the Philippines. White is also used for East Asian Masses for the dead, as white is the traditional colour of mourning in many of the region's cultures. Furthermore, if not enough vestments of the proper colour are available (particularly in concelebrations), white may be used for all concelebrants.
  • Violet or black are often permitted on national holidays days honoring military dead. For example in Canada, they are used on Remembrance Day.

Pre-1969 rubrics[edit]

The Roman Missal, as revised by Pope John XXIII in 1962, was authorised for use as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite by Pope Benedict XVI by the 2007 motu proprio entitled Summorum Pontificum. Pope John XXIII's revision of the Missal incorporated changes that he had made with his motu proprio Rubricarum instructum of 29 July 1960.[7] The following are the differences between its rules for liturgical colours and the later rules:

Colour 1920-1955 Usage 1955-1960 Usage 1960-1969 Usage
Violet
  • Ember days
  • Rogation days
  • Vigil of Christmas
  • Holy Innocents (when this falls on a weekday)
  • Purification (Blessing of Candles and Procession)
  • Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima
  • Palm Sunday (Mass only)
  • Good Friday (Distribution of Holy Communion only)
  • Easter Vigil (pre-Mass blessings and rites)
  • Vigil of Pentecost (pre-Mass blessings and rites)
  • Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
  • Vigil of the Assumption
  • All Souls (during the Forty Hours' Devotion only)
  • Sacrament of Baptism (Introductory rites and Exorcism)
  • Ember days
  • Rogation days
  • Vigil of Christmas
  • Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima
  • Palm Sunday (Mass only)
  • Good Friday (Distribution of Holy Communion only)
  • Easter Vigil (pre-Mass blessings and rites)
  • Vigil of Pentecost (pre-Mass blessings and rites)
  • Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
  • Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul
  • Vigil of St. Lawrence
  • Vigil of the Assumption
  • All Souls (during the Forty Hours' Devotion only)
  • Sacrament of Baptism (Introductory rites and Exorcism)
Rose
  • Gaudete Sunday
  • Laetare Sunday
  • Gaudete Sunday
  • Laetare Sunday
White
  • Vigil of the Ascension
  • Sacrament of Confirmation
  • Vigil of the Ascension
  • Sacrament of Confirmation
Red
  • Octave of Pentecost
  • Octave of Pentecost
Black
  • Good Friday (main liturgy)
  • All Souls (except during the Forty Hours' Devotion)
  • Requiem Masses
  • Good Friday (main liturgy)
  • All Souls (except during the Forty Hours' Devotion)
  • Requiem Masses

Pope Pius X raised the rank of Sundays of ordinary time, so that on those that fell within octaves green was used instead of the colour of the octave, as had previously been the rule.[8]

The rules on liturgical colours before the time of Pope Pius X were essentially those indicated in the edition of the Roman Missal that Pope Pius V promulgated in 1570, except for the addition of feasts not included in his Missal. The scheme of colours in his Missal reflected usage that had become fixed in Rome by the twelfth century.

Byzantine Rite[edit]

The Byzantine Rite, which is used by all the member churches of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine Rite, does not have a universal system of colours, with the service-books of the Byzantine tradition only specifying "light" or "dark" vestments in the service books. In the Greek tradition, maroon or burgundy are common for solemn feast days, and a wide variety of colours are used at other times, the most common of which are gold and white.

Slavic-use churches and others influenced by Western traditions have adopted a cycle of liturgical colours. The particulars may change from place to place, but generally:

Colour Common Usage Other Usage/Notes
Gold
  • When no other colour is specified
Light Blue
  • Feasts of the Theotokos
  • Feasts of the Holy Archangels
  • Churches dedicated to the Theotokos may use light blue for the default, instead of gold.
  • In some places, blue is also used for Holy Theophany.
  • In many places, blue is used for the Dormition Fast (except from the Transfiguration to its afterfeast (August 6-13), when either gold or white is used).
Purple or Dark Red
  • In many places, purple and/or dark red are only worn on the weekdays of the Great Fast, while bright colors (gold, gold/white) are used on Saturdays and Sundays.
Red
  • Pascha (Mount Athos and Jerusalem)
  • Nativity (Mount Athos and Jerusalem)
  • Feasts of the Holy Theotokos (Mount Athos)
  • In some places, red is used for the Dormition Fast (except from the Transfiguration to its afterfeast (August 6-13), when either gold or white is used).
Green
  • Feast of the Cross in some places (such as Jerusalem)
Black
  • Weekdays during Great Lent
  • Weekdays during Holy Week (except Holy Thursday)
  • Black is far more prevalent in the Slavic traditions than the Greek tradition, especially in the United States.
White
  • Funerals (Throughout the year, even during Holy Week.)

The colours would be changed before Vespers on the eve of the day being commemorated. During Great Feasts, the colour is changed before the vespers service that begins the first day of a forefeast, and remains until the apodosis (final day of the afterfeast).

Under Western influence, black is often used in the Slavic churches for funerals, weekdays of Great Lent, and Holy Week as a sign of penance and mourning, but in the second half of the 20th century, the ancient white became more common, as a sign of the hope of the Resurrection.

Russian liturgical colours[edit]

According to the Russian Orthodox Church's Nastol'naya Kniga Sviashchenno-sluzhitelia,[9] up to eight different liturgical colours may be used throughout the year. Exact usage of these colours varies, but the following are the most common uses.

Colour Common Usage Uncommon/Other Usage
Gold
Light Blue
  • Fifth Friday in Lent
  • Dormition Fast until Elevation of the Cross, or even Advent (Carpatho-Russians)
Purple or Dark Red
  • Cross of Our Lord
  • Great and Holy Thursday
  • Weekends of Lent
  • Weekdays of Lent
Red
  • Feasts of Martyrs
  • Feast of Saints Peter and Paul
  • Advent
  • Feasts of Angels
  • Elevation of the Cross
  • Pascha (Mount Athos and Jerusalem)
  • Nativity (Mount Athos and Jerusalem)
Green
  • Palm Sunday
  • Pentecost
  • Holy Spirit Day
  • Feasts of Monastic Saints
  • Feasts of Ascetics
  • Feasts of Fools for Christ
  • Feasts of Prophets
  • Feasts of Angels
  • Pentecost until Saints Peter and Paul (Carpatho-Russians)
Black
  • Weekdays of Lent
  • Weekday funerals, memorials, and liturgies (Carpatho-Russians)
White
  • Epiphany
  • Transfiguration
  • Paschal season
  • Funerals
  • Theophany
  • Christmas Day
Orange or Rust
  • Saints Peter and Paul fast
  • Feast of Saints Peter and Paul until Transfiguration

Coptic and Ethiopic Rites[edit]

The Coptic tradition, followed also in Ethiopia and Eritrea, uses only white vestments, with gold and silver being considered variations of white.

Anglicanism[edit]

Lenten Array altar frontal by George Pace at St Augustine's, Edgbaston

Most Anglican churches use the colours appointed in the Roman Rite, usually in its post-1969 form, with the exception of Sarum Blue replacing violet for Advent, but some use the earlier form, with, for instance, black in place of red on Good Friday. Some churches use black at Masses for the dead, but more commonly white or purple is used. For historical reasons much of the worldwide Anglican Communion takes a noticeable lead from the practice of the Church of England. Since the 1980 Alternative Service Book, liturgical colours have been recommended for seasons, with more detailed advice offered as part of the Common Worship series of liturgies, including colours for all Sundays and festivals printed in the 'core volume' next to collects.

The Church's published Lectionary now makes detailed suggestions for liturgical colour throughout the year, which corresponds almost exactly with the above table of Roman Rite (post-1969 usage) usage with five minor exceptions, and one more significant one:

  • there is no reference in Anglican usage to Masses of deceased popes and cardinals;
  • no liturgical colour at all is suggested for Holy Saturday (the words "hangings removed" are printed);
  • the recommendation of red for confirmation rites is extended also to ordination rites;
  • Lenten Array (unbleached linen) continues to be listed as an alternative option to purple during Lent;
  • the option exists for using red instead of green during the "Kingdom Season", the four last Sundays of the liturgical year, culminating in Christ the King, as is common is some Lutheran traditions (see below);
  • finally, and more significantly, the Church of England provision suggests white throughout the Sundays after Epiphany as a distinct "Epiphany season", with ordinary time commencing the day after Candlemas.

The Church of England suggested colour scheme also indicates where gold vestments should be used in those churches that possess gold and white as distinct colours. The use of rose-pink vestments, as in the Roman Rite table above, was mentioned as an option in early editions of Common Worship,[10] and is a listed option in the annual published lectionary; however, later Common Worship publications have begun to refer to this practice as "traditional" reflecting its resurgence.[11]

Sarum Rite[edit]

The Sarum Rite was a mediaeval liturgical rite used in England before the Reformation which had a distinct set of liturgical colours. After the Anglo-Catholic Revival of the 19th Century, certain Church of England churches began adopting Sarum liturgical colours as an attempt to produce something that was an English expression of Catholicism rather than a Roman expression. One of the chief advocates behind this was Revd Percy Dearmer. The exact colours used by the mediaeval Sarum rite are a matter of dispute, but colours adopted by contemporary churches claiming to use the Sarum scheme include in particular deep blue for Advent and unbleached linen for Lent. The Sarum rite has never received official Church of England approval, but has influenced a number of Church of England Cathedrals.


Lutheranism[edit]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), uses the same colour scheme as that of the Anglicans and their Scandinavian Lutheran counterparts, but with the use of gold only for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday services, with Holy Week using scarlet in place of crimson. Congregations lacking scarlet vestments use purple from Palm Sunday through Holy Wednesday and white for Maundy Thursday. Black, traditionally used by the Anglican Communion for Good Friday and funerals, was used by the ELCA only for Ash Wednesday, but effective with the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) book, which replaces the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW), black is no longer suggested for Ash Wednesday or Good Friday—purple may be used for Ash Wednesday and no colour for Good Friday. In addition, the ELW suggests that blue (with purple being the alternate) be used for the Advent season, reflecting the traditional use of blue in the Scandinavian Lutheran churches.

Both the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), along with the United Methodist Church use a similar system, but with purple being the primary colour for both Advent and Lent (with blue being the alternate colour for Advent only), and the use of gold in place of white for both Christmas and Easter (in similar practice to the Catholic Church). In the WELS, the use of red is also done during the Period of End Times, a period of the Church in regards to the teachings of the Book of Revelation, culminating in the creation of the New Jerusalem (corresponding to Christ the King in the ELCA). In all three churches, including the ELCA, red is also worn on the last Sunday of October, in celebration of the Reformation on October 31, when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses onto the door of Wittenberg Castle Church.

Other Protestants[edit]

Some Protestant churches, historically especially Methodists, and today many mainline Protestants, use a colour scheme similar to those used by Anglicans and Catholics, although the practice is not universally followed. Many Protestant churches do not use liturgical colours at all. The United Methodist Church, prior to the early-1990s, used red solely for Pentecost, even including the Sundays after Pentecost Sunday, with the use of green being reserved for the season of Kingdomtide, which usually lasted from late August/early September until Christ the King (the last Sunday in Kingdomtide). Since the publication of the 1992 Book of Worship, the UMC has followed the ELCA practice of wearing red only for Pentecost and Reformation Sundays and green for the rest of the Pentecost season.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has sanctioned the use of liturgical colours and promoted their use in the 1993 Book of Common Worship (although their use was also promoted in the church's annual Planning Calendars beginning in the 1980s). Advent and Lent are periods of preparation and repentance and are represented by the colour purple. The feasts of Christmas Day and Christmastide, Epiphany Sunday, Baptism of the Lord Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, Easter Season, Trinity Sunday, and Christ the King Sunday are represented by white. Green is the colour for periods of Ordinary Time. Red is for Pentecost Sunday, but may also be used for ordinations, church anniversaries, and memorial services for ordained clergy. Red or purple are appropriate for Palm Sunday. During Holy Week, the church may use purple or remain bare (although a few churches will use black for Good Friday).

Similarly, the United Church of Christ includes indications of which liturgical colour to use for each Sunday in its annual calendar. The general Western pattern is followed, with either purple or blue recommended for Advent.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 346; cf. text for Australia, England and Wales, United States
  2. ^ The optional use of blue as a liturgical colour for feasts of our Lady is restricted to a few dioceses, as explained below.
  3. ^ GIRM (Editio Typica), 346
  4. ^ GIRM, 346
  5. ^ GIRM, 347
  6. ^ Cantica Nova Publications, Advent Blues, editorial by Gary D. Penkala, December 2000
  7. ^ Missale Romanum 1962 in PDF Format
  8. ^ Rubricae generales Missalis: XVIII – De Coloribus Paramentorum in the 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal omitted the phrase "exceptis Dominicis infra octavas occurrentibus, in quibus color octavarum servatur" found in earlier editions beginning with Pope Pius V's edition of 1570 (page 21 of the facsimile published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana in 1998 – ISBN 88-209-2547-8).
  9. ^ Nastol'naya Kniga Sviashchenno-sluzhitelia, Volume 4, Moscow,1983, Translated in "The Messenger" of St. Andrew's Russian Orthodox Cathedral,Philadelphia, June, July–August, September, 1990.
  10. ^ The use of rose-pink vestments is suggested in the liturgical colour sequence notes of Common Worship of which an on-line version may be found here.
  11. ^ For example, see "Common Worship - Times & Seasons", added to the Common Worship series in 2006, page 50, paragraph 1: "rose-pink vestments are traditionally worn".

Sources[edit]

  • Ordo missae celebrandae et divini officii persolvendi secundum calendarium romanum generale pro anno liturgico 2005-2006, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005.

External links[edit]