If you’re thinking that the colours in the church seem to be changing every week at the moment, you’d be right. After months of green during this season of Ordinary Time, we changed last week to violet for All Souls Day. Today’s feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica uses white, as does Christ the King in a fortnight’s time. The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time will see green return next Sunday. Once Advent begins, violet will be the colour in the church for four Sundays in a row.
The Church uses several different colours to mark the liturgical seasons, feasts and sacramental celebrations. The colours are intended to reflect something of the nature of these celebrations, and are part of our long-held tradition.
Green, as already mentioned, is the colour reserved for the season of Ordinary Time, that is the long period of numbered weeks outside of the other major seasons.
White, a symbol of purity and cleanliness, is used in the Easter and Christmas seasons, the Feasts of the Lord and of Mary. It is also reserved for the angels, and saints who are not martyrs; although it is also used for the Feasts of the Birth of John the Baptist (24 June), St John the Evangelist (27 December), the Chair of St Peter (22 February) and the Conversion of St Paul (25 January). It is used for the sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and Holy Orders.
Red, the colour of blood and fire, is reserved for the celebrations of the Lord’s Passion (such as Palm Sunday and Good Friday), Pentecost (and the sacrament of Confirmation), and the feast days of apostles, evangelists and martyrs.
Violet is a colour the Church associates with waiting, preparation and hope. It is the colour for the Seasons of Advent and Lent, the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, and Masses for the Dead (like All Souls).
In addition to the four typical colours, black can also be used at funerals and Masses for the Dead where there is a custom of doing so. Rose vestments, reflecting a particular sense of joyful expectation, are optional on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), as a reminder that the season is coming to a close and that the joy of Easter or Christmas is not far away.