What do the colors in the church mean?
As you enter the church on Sundays, you likely notice the colored cloth on altar, called a frontal, and one on the lectern, which match my vestments as well. These colors correspond to seasons in the church year that follow the life and ministry of Jesus. As we are called to pattern our lives around Him, it is fitting that the entire church calendar is molded around His work in the world.
Each color you see serves as a visual reminder of the events in His life. Additionally, they hold significance to highlight some aspect of our growth in Him throughout the year. Advent marks a new year in the church calendar toward the end of November and start of December. The four Sundays of Advent that lead up to Christmas are marked by the color purple. As you may recall, purple was a choice and expensive color worn only by royalty in ancient times. Such a color is appropriate for this season as it has a dual purpose to both prepare us to receive our King’s entrance into the world at Christmas, as well as preparing for His return at the Second Coming. In preparing our hearts for Him, we repent, or turn away from that which draws us from Him, so we may more fully enthrone Him in our lives. The same color is used again for similar reasons during the forty days of Lent so we may more fully live into victory we have in Jesus on Easter having prepared our hearts through repentance.
The twelve days of Christmas are marked by the color white or gold, which serves as a symbol of purity and holiness. During these days, we recall Jesus stepping into the world for our sake. We are reminded of the holiness of life we are called to pursue in order that we may grow in His character. The white also extends to Epiphany, wherein we call to mind the world coming to Jesus emblematic of the visit of the Magi or Wise Men. In that moment, Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus would be a light unto the nations is fulfilled. (Luke 2:32) During this season, we focus upon our mission to carry the Light (Jesus) into the world.
In the days that follow, and at the end of the church year, we use the color green. The season is often called Ordinary Time, which we see again at the end of the church calendar. However, Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary! Green harkens to our growth when we put Jesus teachings and Words into practice in our lives. We read through the narratives of His ministry to instruct us toward that end.
Lent, as mentioned above, is a season once more of preparation to receive the grace, forgiveness, and love that burst forth on Easter as Jesus was triumphant over sin and death. Yet, to get to Easter morning, we must pass through the Tridiuum, or the three sacred days leading up to that day. Those days, in addition to Palm Sunday (which begins the week with Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem) are marked by red, serving to underscore the betrayal on Maundy Thursday, the suffering of Good Friday, and the silence of Holy Saturday. We remember these days by sacrifice of our time in order to enter into these moments with Jesus through attending services, prayerful vigils, and fasting.
All of the preparation culminates in the joy of Easter morning, and the fifty-day celebration that follows as the door to eternal life is opened through Jesus. We also recall in the celebration and His Ascension into heaven, our calling to live lives redeemed and transformed as a result of the restored relationship we have with God through Him. As Saint Paul reminds us, we are to setting our hearts upon things above, and our hearts and minds upon that which is true and noble. (Col 3:2 ; Phil. 4:8)
The end of the church year is marked by Pentecost. It is, however, more of a beginning than an end. The color red reminds us of the coming of the Holy Spirit who descended like tongues on the apostles at the beginning of the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be able to go out into the world and do all that Jesus taught and commanded. We don’t do it in our strength, but in the power of the Spirit. Following Pentecost we once again move into Ordinary Time wherein we continue to grow through hearing and receiving the teaching of Jesus.
The richness of the church year helps us fix our eyes upon Him throughout the year. We need such a focus amidst calendars and schedules that turn our focus upon to many different things. Soon we will embark upon a new year, and I hope you will enter into the church seasons afresh and daily seek new depths in Jesus.