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If you are familiar with Catholic and Anglican liturgy, you will know that colours change with the Church season.  Here’s a handy guide to what the liturgical colours are and what they mean:

  • Purple: in a deep shade, e.g. ‘Roman violet’, is the traditional colour of penitence and mourning. It is used for:
    • Advent 
    • Lent
    • Funeral for an adult (also see White). 
  • White: represents holiness, light, joy, glory, purity and innocence. It is used for:
    • Christmas and Epiphany (to the Presentation)
    • Easter Sunday to the Eve of Pentecost
    • Trinity Sunday
    • Festivals of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary
    • All Saints’ Day
    • Saints who are not venerated as Martyrs
    • Holy / Maundy Thursday Communion service
    • Baptism
    • Marriage / Holy Matrimony
    • Confirmation and Ordination (as an alternative to red in both cases)
    • Funeral for a child
    • Funeral for an adult (instead of purple or black)
    • Feast of Dedication of a church.
  • Red: suggests blood (Martyrs’ sacrifices) and fire (Holy Spirit, burning charity).  Consequently, it is used for:
    • Holy Week (excluding Maundy Thursday [see White])
    • Good Friday (Anglican)
    • Pentecost Sunday
    • Confirmation and Ordination (traditional colour [see White])
    • Baptism (an Anglican alternative to white)
    • Services focusing on the Holy Spirit
    • Feasts of Apostles and of Martyrs.
  • Green: represents the triumph of life over death.  It is used at the following times:
    • The day after the Presentation through Shrove Tuesday
    • The day after Pentecost until the eve of All Saints’ Day.
  • Blue: symbolises hope, truth and heaven. Depending on the shade, it can suggest royalty or the waters of creation.  It is increasingly used for Advent to differentiate the hope of the Saviour’s birth from the Lenten penitence in preparation for Easter. 
  • Rose: suggests joy and is used only for the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete) and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare).  These particular Sundays are brief respites in times of sober preparation for Christmas and Easter, respectively.    
  • Black: represents death, sin and the sombreness of the tomb.  It is used for funerals and, in the Catholic Church, on Good Friday.  With regard to funerals, purple and white have been gradually replacing black for the past few decades. 

Until the 4th century, white was the only liturgical colour.  Subsequently, white, black, green and red were used until the early 13th century, when Pope Innocent III declared that purple could also be used but only occasionally.

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