The Church Year and Liturgical Colors

Courtesy of Ashby Publishing, copyright 2018


A Historic Year

The Christian Year is as old as the Resurrection of our Lord and as new as the latest revisions. With the resurrection, the disciples of Jesus began a weekly celebration of the event on the First Day of the week. These disciples, like their Lord, had all their lives observed the Jewish Ritual Year. But eventually they substituted Sunday, the First Day of the week for Saturday the Seventh Day, Easter for the Passover, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit for the giving of the Law from Sinai. Together with this they soon began to observe the Nativity of the Lord. Adding certain preparatory and penitential seasons, they had by the sixth century developed a Christian Year for the order of worship, substantially as we have it today.

The four weeks of Advent (“Coming”) are devoted to preparation for the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas)—and the preparation for His second coming, in majesty, to judge the world. Then, following the events of his earthly life of self-sacrifice, we celebrate His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Whitsunday). The second half of the Church Year is co-ordinate with the first, since it celebrates the continuing work of Christ, in His Church, by the Spirit.

Certain days are fixed dates, others are movable, depending on the date of Easter. Easter falls on the Sunday after the 14th day of the Paschal moon—that is the Calendar moon whose 14th day falls on, or follows next after, the vernal equinox, March 21st.

In addition to events in our Blessed Lord’s life, certain saints and martyrs are commemorated—and prayer is made to Almighty God that we may follow their good example of faithfulness, even unto death.


The Liturgical Colors

As God has flooded earth and sky with color, so the Church has sensed the symbolic use of color in its worship. As dominating colors in nature change with the seasons of the fourfold year, so in the Church Year there is a structured change in the colors of the Eucharistic vestments, the liturgical colors. This sequence of liturgical colors has a principal role in Christian visual education, in teaching the Gospel through the eye.


Symbolizing joy, purity, and truth, white is used on the Sundays and open days of Christmastide and Paschaltide; on all Solemnities except Pentecost and Holy Cross Day; Feasts, Memorials and Votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and saints who were not martyrs; Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Confession of St. Peter, Conversion of St. Paul, Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day; Ritual Masses for Baptism and Matrimony, and optionally for Confirmation; the Votive Masses of our Lord, the Holy Trinity and the Eucharist, and optionally for Masses for the Dead. Gold is sometimes used in place of white on major feasts.


The color of fire and of blood, red is used on Pentecost; optionally on Palm Sunday and Good Friday; feasts and Votives of the Passion of our Lord and of the birthday feasts of the Apostles and Evangelists; feasts and votives of the Martyrs; Votives of the Holy Spirit; Ritual Masses for Ordination and optionally for Confirmation.


The Color of living things and of God’s creation, green is used on the Sundays and ferias in the season after Epiphany and Pentecost.

Symbolic of penitence and expectation, violet or purple is used in the seasons of Advent and Lent; for Votives penitential in nature or for the gift of healing; for Penance and Unction; and may also be used for the offices and Masses for the dead, and on Ember and Rogation Days.

Violet or Purple

Representative of deep sorrow, black may be used for Good Friday and for offices and Masses for the dead.


Penitence permeated with joy, rose may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday in Lent.


In the lighter shades, blue is sometimes used on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the darker shades of indigo, blue is frequently used during Advent.


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