The CHURCH SEASONS are celebrated with traditional colors that evolved in the early Roman Catholic Church. Color, like music, plays an important role in the life of God's worshiping people. Just as music is the "handmaiden to theology," liturgical color compliments the message of the seasons and occasions during the church year.
Traditionally, FIVE BASIC COLORS (SCARLET, GREEN, BLACK, RED AND WHITE) are used in liturgical congregations. In recent times, with liturgical renewal, three more colors have been added to the basic five, those being: BLUE, ROSE and GOLD.
BLUE (or in some congregations the color Purple or Rose) is used during the season of Advent. Advent begins the liturgical year for four Sundays before December 25. BLUE, the color of the sky and helps convey the message that our faith rests on the hope that Christ, who came in history assuming our flesh, will also return on the last day of time from that same blue sky he ascended long ago.
THE SYMBOL for advent is the ADVENT WREATH. It represents a custom that Christians have followed for centuries. The circle of the wreath recalls all the years the people waited for the Messiah. The four candles on the wreath remind us that there are four weeks in Advent. Each week one additional candle is lighted, so by the end of Advent all four are lit. The candle lit for the third week of Advent is rose or pink, representing the hope for the coming of Jesus.
CHRISTMAS is our celebration of the birth of Jesus. The color for the season of Christmas is GOLD or WHITE, representing joy innocence and holiness. Jesus is the Word of God who became one of us, the promised Messiah. The central figures in the drama of the birth of Christ are Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist. The Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve and ends the Sunday after January 6 which commemorates the BAPTISM of JESUS.
A SYMBOL FOR CHRISTMAS is the MANGER; a trough used to feed animals which served as the first crib for baby Jesus. The STAR can also be used in the Christmas season as it serves to remind us of the Wise Men who followed it so they could pay homage to Jesus.
GREEN is the color used during the times after Pentecost; the times when the gospel scripture lessons focus on the teachings of Jesus. The readings during this season instruct us on how to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives. Green is a sign of hope or triumph of life over death, like re-growth in springtime.
THE SYMBOL used most often during the Sundays after Pentecost, lasting up to 27 weeks, is called a "Chi Rho." It comprises the first two letters of the Greek word for Messiah - Christos (the letter Chi looks like the letter "X" and the letter Rho looks like the letter "P"). In the times of persecution of the early Church, this abbreviation became a symbol representing Jesus Christ.
PURPLE is used during the season of LENT (or it is used for Advent in churches that don't have BLUE paraments for the Advent season). Purple is a color that was reserved for use by royalty, and so it is used in Lent to symbolize the time of Jesus' trial when the Roman guards put an old purple robe over him and hailed him as "King of the Jews." When used in Advent, purple symbolizes the coming of Christ our King. Purple is also symbolic of reflection and penance.
LENT is the time of preparation for EASTER, the greatest season of the Church. During Lent, we are asked to focus on changing our lives through prayer, penance and love. In doing this, we try to become more like Christ in His love for God and others by His dying and rising to new life.
The LENTEN SEASON begins on ASH WEDNESDAY and ends on Thursday of Holy Week. From the time of the early Church, the 40 days of lent are counted from the First Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday, (called MAUNDY THURSDAY) with Sundays excluded from the total.
THE TERM "LENT" comes from a Middle English word that means springtime. Like the season of spring, Lent is a time of renewal. THE SYMBOL FOR LENT is the CROSS. It symbolizes Jesus' victory over death and the hope of our salvation. It reminds us that we are called by Jesus to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, and that we should improve those things that help us do this and change those things that get in the way.
BLACK is seen very seldom during the year. Usually it is used only twice; on GOOD FRIDAY and ASH WEDNESDAY. There's no mistaking the message that this sober color gives. Black represents the absence of light. Good Friday, or Black Friday in combination with Ash Wednesday, calls for sober reflection on the cost of our redemption. Without Christ's sacrifice on the day the sky turned dark and hid the light of the sun, there would be no bright Light of Christ to live in, nor new life in Christ to enjoy.
IN THE EASTER SEASON WHITE is the color used. It is the symbol of purity and completeness. White also reminds us of the passage "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow." Christ's triumph from the grave on RESURRECTION day is the cause for our rejoicing. His purity before his Father becomes our purity. White reinforces that message of joy.
GOLD is the optional color for Easter Sunday. It is also the suggested color for the last Sunday in the church year called Christ the King Sunday. its use may not be popular yet, but its emphasis is undeniable. Gold represents value and worth. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the event that gives our lives meaning and worth.
The SYMBOLS FOR EASTER is the PASCHAL CANDLE (as seen beside our baptismal font) and WATER which represents the light and new life of Christ's resurrection and the water of our baptism and rebirth. The EASTER SEASON flows from the Easter Vigil and concludes fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday.
On PENTECOST SUNDAY we celebrate the COMING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. On this day red is the liturgical color, representing the Fire of the Holy Spirit. RED is a power color and is also at other times, such as REFORMATION SUNDAY; HOLY CROSS DAY (Sept 14). and on such festive occasions as DEDICATIONS, ORDINATION and INSTALLATION of a pastor.
In conclusion, it should be understood that PARAMENTS, VESTMENTS, ALTAR HANGINGS, and WALL BANNERS have evolved through the centuries of the Christian Church to communicate a powerful message. They must not be seen as just an attempt to decorate, make pretty, or give accent to the worship area. As you see the colors and symbols of the church that are displayed each Sunday, remember that each tells an important and different story.