Colours of the Christian Year

The Christian 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.

Colour can be seen in the church in the outer vestment, or chasuble, and the embroidered scarf, or stole, of the priest. It can also be seen in the altar frontal, the pulpit fall and bible book marks.

One of these ways varying colours according to the time of the Christian Year:

  • white and gold for the light, joy, purity of Christ, Mary and the saints;
  • red for the blood and fire of the Holy Spirit, martyrs and the Cross;
  • purple or blue for the penitence and preparation of Advent and Lent;
  • green for the hope and creation of all the other times of the year.

White

The colour in the Church is white or gold during Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and for major Saints Days.

White and gold 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 white for Trinity Sunday, Festivals of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary, for All Saints’ Day 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.

In the Diocese of Perth, we also use white for Ordinations.

Christmas is the festival when we remember the birth of Jesus.

Epiphany celebrates the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus.

Easter celebrates the resurrection (rising from the dead) of Jesus. Because Christianity’s central belief is in the Resurrection, Easter is the most important Christian Festival. White and gold are dazzling and are used for ‘best’.

Red

The colour in the Church is red at Pentecost and principal feast days for martyrs, and days which emphasise the cross of Jesus.

Red 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 (in many places) ordination.

Colours are traditionally taken away for Good Friday and Easter Eve, but red is the colour for the liturgy on Good Friday.

Purple – Advent and Lent

The colour in the Church is purple during Advent and Lent.

The 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.

Purple became associated with judgement because the Roman judges and senators used to wear purple robes. 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 colour.

Advent is the period we prepare for Christmas.

Lent is the period we prepare for Easter.

Green

The colour in the Church is green when there are no festivals or special days like Saints Days.

Green 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.