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The Jews made sacerdotal vestments of various colors by God’s injunction for use in the Temple, white, scarlet and purple being the prevailing colors. Among the heathen the priests wore garments of dazzling whiteness, hence the Christians, who were converts partly from Judaism, partly from paganism, wished to provide similar colored vestments for divine worship. Besides, from the revelations of St. John, the Church learned that the celestial spirits who serve God in heaven standing about the throne, are arrayed in brilliant hues, so as to resemble a rainbow (Apoc. iv.). Thus the Church Militant imitates the Church Triumphant in the use of colors in her services. And again, as the face of nature changes with the varying seasons, so the different emotions evoked by the various seasons of the ecclesiastical year find expression in the use of different colors.

1. In the vestments worn by the priest at Mass, the Church makes use of five colors: white, red, green, purple, and black.

White is emblematic of innocence and purity, and of the eternal bliss to be enjoyed hereafter; red, the color of fire and of blood, be tokens love and martyrdom. Green signifies hope, and violet or purple, faith and penance. Black is an emblem of death.

1. White is the color used on the feasts of Our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of the angels, and of confessors.

Christ is the Light of the world and perfect purity; the Mother of God was free from the stain of original sin. The angels dwell in everlasting light and perfect sanctity; the confessors let the light of their good works shine before men. On the nativity of St. John Baptist white vestments are worn, although he was martyred, because he was sanctified before his birth.

2. Red is the color used at Pentecost and on the feasts of martyrs.

At Pentecost the Holy Ghost, Who kindles the fire of charity in our hearts, came down upon the apostles in tongues of fire. The martyrs shed their blood for Christ, and thus manifested the greatness of their love for Him. Red is also used on the feasts of the holy cross, because Our Lord shed His blood upon the cross.

3. Green is used on the Sundays after the Epiphany and after Pentecost on which nothing special is commemorated.

On the Sundays after Epiphany the Church commemorates the youth of Christ, and His entrance upon His public ministry, which brought hope to the world; after Pentecost she celebrates her own springtime, the germination of the grain in the kingdom of God.

4. Purple is used in Advent and Lent, and upon vigils and Ember days.

Advent is the season in which faith looks for the coming of the Saviour; Lent is the time of fasting and penance. Purple is worn in administering the Sacrament of Penance, Extreme Unction, and Baptism, until after the anointing of the person to be baptized.

5. Black is used on Good Friday and at Masses for the dead.

There is generally some white about black vestments, to indicate that the souls of the departed will soon enter upon eternal joys. At the obsequies of young children white is used because they die in innocence.

2. These colors not only depict the course of Our Lord’s life on earth, but serve as a constant admonition to us to lead a pious life.

The colors in use in the Church, which, as we have seen, coincide with each event commemorated as it recurs in the cycle of the ecclesiastical year, are, besides, a continual lesson to the Christian. Let the white vestments remind you that the Church calls on her children to strive after holiness; let the sight of the red kindle in you the love of God, while the green bids you raise your heart and fix your hopes on heaven. The sight of the purple will remind you that you must do penance; the black will recall the thought of death, urging you to prepare for your last end and also to pray for your departed friends.


This article, 14. THE COLORS OF THE VESTMENTS is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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