Christian Liturgical Colors
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons became a common practice
in the Western church in about the fourth century. At first, usages varied
considerably but by the 12th century Pope Innocent III systematized the use of
five colors: Violet, White, Black, Red and Green. The Lutheran and Anglican
churches that emerged from the Reformation retained the traditional colors but
they disappeared entirely (along with most other ritual) from the worship of the
Reformed churches. During the 20th century, the ecumenical Liturgical
Movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual—including the
traditional colors of the Western church. To these have been added Blue and
Gold—colors that were used in some Western rites before the 12th century.
Briefly, the colors express emotions and ideas that are associated with each of
the seasons of the liturgical year. Violet is the ancient royal color and therefore
a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ. Violet is
also associated with repentance from sin. White
and Gold symbolize the brightness of day. Black
is the traditional color of mourning in some cultures. Red evokes the color of blood, and
therefore is the color of martyrs and of Christ’s death on the Cross. Red also symbolizes
fire, and therefore is the color of the Holy Spirit. Green is the color of growth. Blue is the
color of the sky and in some rites honors Mary. Vestments are often worn as reminders of
the emotional focus of the seasons.
Brown is symbolic of
the earth and was often
the color of a monk’s robe, signifying humility and
God’s connection with the commonplace and the
Blue signifies the blue skies or the life-giving air and
often signifies hope or good health. It is an alternate
color for the season of Advent.
Purity, virginity, innocence, and birth, are
symbolized with this color. White is the liturgical
color of Christmas and Easter.
Purple speaks of fasting, faith, patience adn trust. It
is the liturgical color used during the seasons of
penance; Advent and Lent.
The meanings associated with color in Christian worship,
art, architecture and design are summarized as follows:
This is the symbol of light and purity. It speaks of youth,
happiness, the harvest, hospitality, love and benevolence.
But since it is also taken as off-white, it can be the color of
degradation or cowardice.
Symbolic of endurance and strength, orange is the color of
fire and flame. it represents the red of passion tempered by
the yellow of wisdom. It is the symbol of the sun.
Green symbolizes the breaking of shackles, freedom from
bondage. It is the color of fertility. In the Christian context, it
represents bountifulness, hope and the victory of life over
death. It is one of the colors associated with Christmas, and
the long season of the Trinity in summer.
Signifies action, fire, charity, spiritual awakening. It also
glorifies the sun and the joy of life and love. In the Christian
symbolism, it denotes Holy Spirit. It is the color of Pentecost.
Said to represent the absolute, constancy, eternity or the
womb, black may also denote death, fear and ignorance.
Black is the liturgical color of Good Friday.