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Part of what makes observing the liturgical year special is color. Different events and seasons are reflected in a variety of colors, including purple, white, green, black, red, pink, blue, gold, and some other colors as well. The seasonal color, usually displayed in various ways in the place of worship, reflects and augments the thematic elements of the season. So, for example, because purple is understood to symbolize penitence (among other things) it is used during the season of Lent.
Once again, I should emphasize that there is no single color scheme either recognized by or imposed upon all Christians. In the twelfth-century, Pope Innocent II systematized the Roman Catholic color scheme, but since Vatican II in the 1960s, Roman Catholic churches have exercised some freedom in their use of alternative or additional colors. In recent years, many Protestant churches have moved from using purple in Advent to using royal blue. This move reflects a variety of motives, depending on the congregation. For the most part, it seems to be an effort to distinguish Advent from Lent. Blue continues to symbolize royalty and solemnity. Some churches connect blue with the color of the night sky or as a symbol of creation. A compromise popular in some congregations is the use of purplish-blue in Advent and a reddish-purple in Lent. Such freedom in the use and interpretations of color can allow for innovation and distinctive celebration, though it can also be a bit confusing.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth examination of the church year, I would highly recommend an outstanding website: The Voice: CRI Institute. Their material on the church year is top-notch.
The chart below is my attempt to reflect what seems to be a consensus among many churches. I will identify the day or season, along with calendar dates, themes, and common colors.
In tomorrow’s post I’ll talk a bit more about the colors of the Christian year and their use in worship.