Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Colors for the liturgy
by Father Jan Larson
(From the May 21, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
The new General Instruction on the Roman Missal, in its discussion of liturgical colors, states that “variety in the color of the vestments is meant to give effective, outward expression to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and, in the course of the liturgical year, to a sense of progress in the Christian life.” Another reason for different colors, not mentioned in this document, is festivity. The colors of clothing in various cultures represent various degrees of festivity or celebration. Thus black would be, in our American culture, appropriate at a funeral, whereas white is associated with weddings, and red and green for Christmas, and so forth. In every culture, color is used to express feelings, but the colors associated with different moods and feelings may differ from culture to culture.
In the liturgy, there are six traditional colors; white, red, green, violet, black and rose. White is used during the seasons of Easter and Christmas, on celebrations of the Lord other than his Passion, and in celebrations of the Virgin Mary. White also is the appropriate color for feasts of angels, saints who were not martyrs, on the Feast of All Saints, the Birth of John the Baptist, John the Apostle and Evangelist, the Chair of Peter, and the Conversion of Paul.
Red is used on Passion (Palm) Sunday and Good Friday, Pentecost Sunday, celebrations of the Lord’s Passion, birthday feasts of apostles and evangelists, and celebrations of martyrs. Green is used during the days of Ordinary Time, and violet is used in Advent and Lent. It may also be used in Masses for the dead.
Black may be used at Masses for the dead. In the dioceses of the United States, violet or white may be used for funerals. In practice, white is normally used for funerals, while black and violet are used rarely, if at all. Since the funeral rite was revised decades ago, the funeral liturgy stresses hope in new and eternal life, rather than sorrow and cleansing from sin, as in the pre-Vatican II funeral liturgy. The current norms for funerals state that the color should be used “that best expresses hope,” and it is hard to imagine how anyone could interpret violet (penitence) or black (sorrow and mourning) to be the best expression of hope and joy.
Rose colors may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent and on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This color brought a sign of hope during seasons that were once vigorously penitential in nature. Today, Advent is no longer a penitential season, and Lent, while still a season of penance, is described by the liturgical texts as “this great season of joy.” Thus rose is not used in most parishes. In the United States, blue vestments may be worn in Advent, and gold or silver colored vestments may be worn on solemn occasions. In fact, “on more solemn days, sacred vestments may be used that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not of the color of the day.”
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)