Different colors can be seen in the church throughout the year. The colors purple, white, green, and red alternate. Each color belongs to a certain ecclesiastical period, and each color has its meaning.

For some colors, this meaning is associated with colors, as mentioned in the Bible. Other colors have a more traditional sense. The colors can be seen in the antependium and in the stole that is worn by the predecessor. 

History of the liturgical colors in the Christian religion

The use of different colors in the church has to do with the space that was available for the church. During the first two centuries of the Christian religion, believers did not have a specific place where religious worship was held.

The table where the Lord’s meal was celebrated then also had no permanent decoration. When the sacrament of the Eucharist was celebrated, white silk, damask, or linen cloth was put over a table, and so it became an altar table.

Over time, this table linen has been adorned. The rug was called an antependium in Latin. The meaning of the word antependium is a veil. When the believers had their church room, the antependium hung over the altar table permanently. The primary purpose of the antependium is to cover the table and the reader.

The color white at baptism

From the outset of the Christian church, it was customary for baptized persons to receive a white robe as a sign that the water of baptism had washed them. From that moment on, a new life starts for them, which is indicated by the color white. At the beginning of the fifth century, predecessors also dressed in white.

Only in the twelfth century, there are signs that other colors are used in the church that have a symbolic meaning. These colors are used for certain liturgical celebrations or specific periods of the year, such as the time of Christmas and Easter. In the beginning, there were significant local differences in the use of liturgical colors.

From the thirteenth century, guidelines were given from Rome. This creates a more uniform use of the liturgical colors.

The meaning of the color white

The color white is the only liturgical color that is strongly anchored in the Bible. This color appears in various places in the Bible. For example, the witnesses washed in the blood of the Lamb in Revelation wear the color white (Revelation 7: 9,14). This color refers to cleanliness. According to John, the author of the Bible book of Revelation, white is also the color of the kingdom of God (Revelation 3: 4).

White has traditionally been the color of baptism. In the early church, the baptized ones were dressed in white robes after immersion. They baptized on Easter night. The light of the risen Christ shone around them. White is a festive color. The liturgical color is white at Easter, and the church also turns white at Christmas.

At Christmas, the feast of the birth of Jesus is celebrated. A new life begins. That includes the color white. White can also be used for funerals. Then the white color refers to the heavenly light in which the deceased is absorbed.

The meaning of the color purple

The color purple is used in the time of preparation and reflection. Purple is the color of Advent, the time of preparation for the Christmas party. The color purple is also used for forty days. This time is associated with repayment and fine. Purple is also the color of austerity, reflection, and repentance. This color is also sometimes used for funerals.

The meaning of the color pink

The color pink is used on only two Sundays of the church year. There are many churches in which they do not use this color, but continue to adhere to the color purple. Pink is used in the middle of the Advent time and in the middle of forty days.

Those Sundays are called “almost Christmas” and “half fasting.” Because half of the preparation time is up, it is a bit of a party. The purple of discoloration and fine is mixed with the white of the party. Purple and white together make the pink color.

The meaning of the color green

Green is the color of the ‘regular’ Sunday celebrations. If there is not something special in the church year, green is the liturgical color. In the summer, when there are no church festivals and heyday, the color in the church is green. It then refers to everything that grows.

The meaning of the color red

Red is the color of the fire. This color is connected to the fire of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is described in the Bible book of Acts on the very first day of Pentecost. The disciples of Jesus were gathered in the upper room, and they suddenly had tongues of fire on their heads. These tongues of fire referred to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

That is why the liturgical color for Pentecost is red. The color in the church is also red for celebrations in which the Holy Spirit plays an important role, such as the confirmation of officeholders and confessional services. However, red also has a second meaning. This color can also refer to the blood of the martyrs who died because they continued to testify of their faith in Jesus.

In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples: “Remember the word I said to you: A servant is no more than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). This color, therefore, applies to a service in which one or more office holders are confirmed.

The liturgical colors of the church year

Time of the church yearLiturgical color
Third Sunday of AdventPink
Christmas Eve to EpiphanyWhite
Sundays after EpiphanyGreen
Forty-five daysPurple
Fourth Sunday of the Forty DaysPink
Palm SundayPurple
Easter vigil – Easter timeWhite
Sunday TrinitatisWhite
Sundays after TrinitatisGreen
Baptism and ConfessionWhite or red
Confirmation of office holdersRed
Marriage servicesWhite
Funeral servicesWhite or Purple
Consecration of a churchWhite

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