Just as certain types of clothes are worn during certain times of the year (i.e. summer and winter), the vestments worn by the priest at mass signifies meaning associated with the various seasons of the liturgical calendar. Have you ever been at Mass and wondered why a certain color vestment is being worn? Or why the altar is decorated in green, white, red, or purple? This is not a random choice but is a uniform system to create uniformity, structure, and movement through the liturgical calendar.
Liturgies celebrated during the different seasons of the liturgical year have distinctive music and specific readings, prayers, and rituals. All of these elements work together to reflect the spirit of the particular season. The colors of the vestments that the priest wears during the liturgy also help express the character of the mysteries being celebrated. These colors may also be used in linens and cloths which adorn the altar and ambo. Color communicates emotional and spiritual realities to the worshipping community. Liturgical color is more than simply decorative; rather it helps to express the changing seasonal moods which symbolize the shifting mood of the assembly gathered together to worship. Liturgical color helps to symbolize the deeper realities we celebrate and help us to worship in the spirit of the season.
|White, the color of joy and victory, is a festive color and is used for the seasons of Easter and Christmas. It is also used for the feasts of Our Lord, Mary, All Saints, Chair of Peter, Conversion of Paul, the Nativity of John the Baptist, St. John the Evangelist, the angels, and for saints who are not martyrs. It is also a reminder of the resurrection and can therefore be used at funerals; purple or black may also be used. Gold may also be used on solemn occasions.
|Red(the color of fire and blood) is used on the days when we celebrate the passion of Jesus, Passion (Palm) Sunday and Good Friday. It is also used for the birth feasts of the apostles and evangelists and for the celebrations of martyrs. Red (the color of fire) recalls the Holy Spirit and is used on Pentecost and for the sacrament of Confirmation.
|Green, seen everywhere in plants and trees, symbolizes life, anticipation, and hope and is used during Ordinary Time. Ordinary does not mean ordinary in the sense of routine or basic. Ordinary means the weeks/months between the special seasons (i.e.: Christmas, Lent, Advent and Easter), as in the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It’s different from a regular calendar, but not included in the special seasons.
|The colors violet or purple in Advent help us to remember that we are preparing for the coming of Christ. Lent, the season of penance, repentance, and renewal, also uses the colors violet or purple.
|Rose is an optional color and may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, and on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. It expresses the joy of anticipation for Christmas and Easter.
From the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (#345) we learn:
The purpose of a variety in the color of the sacred vestments is to give effective expression even outwardly to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and to a sense of Christian life’s passage through the course of the liturgical year.