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The colours of the Christian Year

The Christian, or Church, Year celebrates different parts of the Christian faith during the course of twelve months so dividing the year into a series of seasons. Each season has its own mood, theological emphases, etc., which is shown in different ways of decorating churches one of which is varying colours according to the time of the Christian Year. These colours can be seen in the priest's outer vestment (chasuble or dalmatic) and the embroidered scarf (stole). It can also be seen in the chalice covers, altar frontal and the pulpit fall. 

White or gold in the church

The colour white

The picture below shows a white chasuble on the right and a white dalmatic on the left. Notice the white pulpit fall in the background.

white clergy garmentsWhite and gold are dazzling and are used for 'best'. They are used for the light, joy and purity of Christ, Mary and the saints. White is the colour for the festive periods from Christmas Day to the Presentation of Christ in the temple and from Easter Day to the Eve of Pentecost. The colour is also used for Trinity Sunday, Festivals of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, for All Saints' Days and for the festivals of those saints not worshipped as martyrs. It is used for the dedication of a church, at Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday and in thanksgiving for Holy Communion and Holy Baptism. It is used for marriages, and is suitable for baptism, confirmation and ordination, though red may be preferred. It may be used in preference to purple or black for funerals, and should be used at the funeral of a child.

Red in the church

The colour red

The picture below shows a red chasuble on the right and a red dalmatic on the left. Notice the red amice on the server.

Red clergy garmentsRed is used for the fire and blood of the Holy Spirit, martyrs and the Cross. Red is the colour of blood, and therefore the colour of martyrdom and is used for any service that commemorates the death of a martyr. Red is also the colour of fire, and therefore also of the Holy Spirit, so is used at services which concentrate on the Holy Spirit like baptism, confirmation and ordination. It is used during Holy Week (except at Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday), on the Feast of Pentecost, and for the feasts of those saints worshipped as martyrs. It can be used at services which focus on the Holy Spirit, and can therefore be used for baptism, confirmation and ordination.. Colours are traditionally taken away for Good Friday and Easter Eve, but red is the colour for the liturgy on Good Friday. 

Purple in the church

The colour purple

The picture below shows a purple stole. Notice the purple altar frontal and pulpit fall in the background. The second picture below shows a purple chasuble and two purple stoles.

A purple stoleThe colour purple may vary from Roman purple to violet. Being made from Murex shells, purple was the most expensive dye in Roman times, and so became a sign of wealth, power, and royalty as we prepare for the coming of Christ the King during Advent.

It is also associated with mourning and so anticipates the pain and suffering of the crucifixion during Lent. It became associated with judgement because the Roman judges and senators used to wear purple robes.

Purple in the church Purple is recommended for funerals and for the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, although either black or white may be preferred. Since as Christians we prepare for our King through reflection and repentance, purple has also become a penitential color. The picture here shows a purple stole. 

Green in the church

The colour green

The picture below shows green stoles. Notice the green pulpit fall in the background.

Green stolesGreen is for general use as it is considered to be a natural colour. It is the colour of vegetation, the colour of life and is used for the hope and creation during all other times of the year. There two such periods, one from the day after the Presentation of Christ in the Temple until Shrove Tuesday, and the other from the day after Pentecost until the eve of All Saints' Day, except when other special days occur. These two seasons are also called Ordinary Time because the Sundays have no names and there are no festivals or special days like Saints Days. Green may also be used, rather than red, between All Saints' Day and the First Sunday of Advent.