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History of the Liturgical Colors

Originally liturgical garments and stoles were made predominantly from pure white fabric with the occasional use of black to mark times of mourning. During Lent garments were often made of unbleached cotton, sometimes died gray. During non-penitential seasons, fine linen was the fabric of choice.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) was the first to mention four liturgical colours: white [white] for feasts of confessions and joyful days; red [red] for martyrs and the feasts of saints; black [black] for penitential seasons and green [green] for common days. Green was chosen because it was half way between black and white in the colour spectrum. By the 12th century Rome had a canon regularing colours. Pope St. Pius V (1566-1572) imposed a uniformity of practice, in part, to limit the influence of the Protestant Reformation.

In the early days purple [purple] was considered a form of black since, until the invention of chemical dyes, there was no true black. Yellow was sometimes used for confessors and rose for feasts of martyrs. By the time of the Medieval Rites there was much more variation and local custom, not rubics, dictated colour. In one church the instruction regarding vestments was to wear any old vestments the sacrist sets out. In another, the instruction was to wear the best vestments no matter what the colour.

It is no surprise there has never been a totally cohesive approach to the use of colour by the whole Church. From early days there has not been one expression of Christianity or Christian liturgy. Today, again, customs vary between and across traditions and denominations. No matter what tradition is followed (or indeed, created) the cycle of colours connects us, as worshippers, to the annual cycles of religious life. The seasonal changes remind us of the rhythm and sanctification of time and eternal life. The liturgical year helps us experience the drama of incarnation, which is the story ofr Christ on earth, and for all time, past, present, and future. Each time the season and thur the colour changes, we are alerted through our senses, not just our intellects, to a change in focus in our religious life. In contemporary times we understand there is not 'one right way' and that Christian worship, like everything else, is influenced by the cultures in which is develops.

Source: Liturgical Designs


Easter isn't over on Monday. The Church celebrates Easter for fifty days until Pentecost Sunday. This fifty-day period is called Paschal Time, or Paschaltide. The term Octave of Easter may refer either to the eight-day period from Easter Sunday until the Sunday following Easter, inclusive; or it may refer only to that Sunday after Easter, the Octave Day of Easter (sometimes known as Low Sunday or St. Thomas Sunday, particularly among those of the Eastern Church).

"Octave" describes the eight-day time following a liturgical Feast Day and the eighth day following the Feast Day. We trace that tradition back to the Hebrew Bible. For example, the eighth day was the day of circumcision (Genesis 21:4; Leviticus 12:3; Luke 1:59; Acts 7:8). It was on the eighth day, too, that the feast of the dedication of the Temple under Solomon, and of its purifications under Ezechias concluded.

The liturgy of the octave for Easter and for Christmas (as the Feast of the Circumcision) developed very early in the Church, beginning in the fourth century, as Feast Days.

This year the Easter Octave runs from Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 to the First Sunday after Easter, April 7, 2013. Paschal Time runs from Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013 to Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013.

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After Pentecost, the Church moves into "Ordinary Time" or "the time of the church." This, the longest season of the liturgical year, can last from 22 to 28 Sundays. It begins with the Second Sunday after Pentecost and goes until the First Sunday of Advent. During this time, which is anything but "ordinary," we explore the mission of the church.

Green, symbolizing growth is the appointed color for all but a few of the Sundays during this season. Consequently, green is the most frequently used color for the altar paraments as it is used an average of six to eight months of any given liturgical year.

Called by some the season of the "green meadow," no doubt due to green being the liturgical color, these Sundays also emphasize the subject of growth. Green is a neutral color, but there is nothing colorless about our need to grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ. That's why the "green meadow" time of the church year is so lengthy. Time must be given to encourage all worshipers to maintain their faith through the constant use of God's means of grace

This year, the Season of Growth runs from June 2, 2013 to the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2013.

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In Western Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day of the season of Lent, which begins 40 days prior to Easter. (The six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sundya are not included in the 40-day count.)

Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. For this reason the liturgical color for this season is purple, the color of penance and solumnity.

The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:39; Esther 4:1, Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

For the early Christians, Lent was a period of final preparation for the Catechumens (from the Green word meaning "to instruct"). Often havingn spent one, or even two years, studyding the Faith, they would be baptized Easter Sunday.

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