Liturgical colours are 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 seasons of the liturgical year.[clarification needed]
Roman Catholic Church
|Color||Obligatory usage||Optional usage (in lieu of prescribed obligatory colour)|
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.
Ritual Masses are celebrated in their proper colour or 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.
Regional and situational exceptions
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 uses of blue in place of violet for the season of Advent despite the fact that this practice is not authorized under liturgical law.
- 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. White or
- Remembrance Day. Violet or black are often permitted on national holidays honoring military dead. For example in Canada, they are used on
-  Gold or silver may be worn on more solemn occasions in the dioceses of the United States.
The rules on liturgical colours in the 1960 Code of Rubrics, whose observance is still permitted in the circumstances indicated in the 2007 document Summorum Pontificum on use of the 1962 Roman Missal, which incorporates them, differ from the current rubrics in the following respects:
|Colour||1920–1955 usage||1956–1960 Usage||1961–1969 Usage|
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.
The Byzantine Rite, which is used by all the member churches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Byzantine Lutheran Churches 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|
|Purple or wine-red||
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
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In the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, up to nine 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 or other usage|
|Light blue (голубой)||
|Purple or Dark Red (фиолетовый или темно-красный)||
|Dark Blue, Indigo (синий, темно-синий)||
|Orange or tawny (оранжевый)||
The Coptic tradition, followed by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Catholic Church, only uses white vestments, with gold and silver being considered variations of white. The only exception is during Passion Week when black is used. Nonetheless, trimmings of red, gold or blue may be found on some vestments.
The liturgical tradition of Ethiopia, followed by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Catholic Church, embraces a wide variety of liturgical colours. In Eritrea, similar traditions are followed.
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.
Both the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) 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 regarding 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.
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 colour scheme suggested by the Church of England 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, 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.
The Sarum Rite was a medieval 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 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, which may be popularly referred to as "Sarum blue", and unbleached linen for Lent. The Sarum rite has never received official approval in the Church of England or Episcopal Church (United States), but has influenced a number of cathedrals and parish churches.
Methodists use a colour scheme similar to those used by Lutherans and Catholics, although the practice is not universally followed. 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 Sunday and green for the rest of the Pentecost season.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), or its predecessor denominations, has sanctioned the use of liturgical colours and promoted their use in The Worshipbook of 1970, the 1993 Book of Common Worship and the 2018 Book of Common Worship. 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, purple is used until the church is stripped bare on Maundy Thursday; the church remains stripped bare on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, though in some places black might be used on those days.
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.
- Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 346; cf. text for Australia Archived 2008-07-20 at the Wayback Machine, England and Wales, United States
- The optional use of blue as a liturgical colour for feasts of our Lady is restricted to a few dioceses, as explained below.
- GIRM (Editio Typica), 346
- GIRM, 346.g
- GIRM, 347
- Cantica Nova Publications, Advent Blues, editorial by Gary D. Penkala, December 2000
- GIRM, 346.h in publications for use in the U.S.
- Missale Romanum 1962 in PDF Format
- 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).
- this information is taken from the Настольная книга священнослужителя (Nastol'naya Kniga Sviashchenno-sluzhitelia, "clergyman's handbook"), Vol. 4, Moscow,1983, as translated in "The Messenger" of St. Andrew's Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Philadelphia, June, July–August, September, 1990. The 1983 edition is based on the handbook's third edition, edited by S. V. Bulgakov (Kiev, 1913). Chapter 15.5 (ЦВЕТА БОГОСЛУЖЕБНЫХ ОБЛАЧЕНИЙ. СИМВОЛИКА ЦВЕТОВ) lists nine colors: "The color scale of the liturgical vestments consists of the following basic colors: white, red, orange, yellow, green, light blue (голубой), dark blue (синий), violet/purple (фиолетовый), black."
- 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.
- 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".
- United Church of Christ Desk Calendar and Plan Book 2016, http://www.uccresources.com
- Ordo missae celebrandae et divini officii persolvendi secundum calendarium romanum generale pro anno liturgico 2005-2006, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005.
- Christian Symbols, Crosses, Parament Colours; and their meanings—Trinity Lutheran Church, Billings, Montana
- Liturgical Colours, from Chuck Knows Church, a ministry of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church
- Clergy Stoles and their Colors a related video to the above, from Chuck Knows Church, a ministry of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Liturgical colours". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Protestant liturgical colours on-line
- Catholic calendar showing the liturgical colours for each day and feast