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Dear Catholic Exchange,
Could you please explain the significance of the different colors of robes priests wear? Thank you very much!
Dear Mr. Scott,
Peace in Christ! The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) provides the norms for liturgical colors. What follows is a list of the colors and when each is used, and then an explanation of what the colors signify. The colors and seasons are given in GIRM, no. 346:
Traditional usage should be retained for the vestment colors.
a) White is used in the offices and masses during the seasons of Easter and Christmas; also on celebrations of the Lord, other than of his passion; on celebrations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, saints who were not martyrs; on the solemnity of All Saints (November 1); the feasts of the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24), John, apostle, evangelist (December 27), the Chair of Peter (February 22), and the Conversion of Paul (January 25).
b) Red is used on Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) and Good Friday, Pentecost Sunday, celebrations of the Lord’s passion, “birthday” feasts of the apostles and evangelists, and celebrations of martyrs.
c) Green is used in the offices and Masses of Ordinary Time.
d) Violet is used in Advent and Lent. It may also be worn in Offices and Masses for the dead.
e) Black may be used, where it is the custom, in Masses for the dead.
f) Rose may be used, where it is the custom, on Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent).
However, regarding liturgical colors, the Conference of Bishops may define and propose to the Holy See adaptations which respond to the needs and genius of the peoples.”
GIRM, no. 345 says that the various colors of liturgical vestments are “meant to give effective, outward expression to the specific character of the mysteries of faith being celebrated and, in the course of the liturgical year, to a sense of progress in the Christian life.” In order for the colors
to achieve the purpose for which they are intended, the faithful must know what each signifies. The following information is taken from The Church Visible: the Ceremonial Life and Protocol of the Roman Catholic Church, by James-Charles Noonan, Jr. (New York: Viking, 1996 [p. 342]).
• Green: hope, everlasting life, fidelity.
• White: joy, exuberance, celebration, resurrection, victory, purity, innocence.
• Gold and Silver: May be substituted for white on most solemn feasts and carries the same symbolism of white.
• Red: Holy Spirit (Pentecost), suffering of the Lord, of the apostles, and for martyrdom.
• Violet: sorrow, mourning, repentance, penance.
• Black: mourning and death.
• Rose: subdued joy. From this list, one can see that a given color can have more than one significance. For example, red on the Feast of Pentecost speaks to us of the tongues of fire as the Holy Spirit came upon those in the Upper Room. Red on the feast day of a martyr signifies the blood of martyrs, i.e., they gave their life in witness of the Gospel.
• White can signify the purity of virgins, as on feasts of the Blessed Virgin May or any virgin. White also signifies the glory of Christ’s resurrection.
Finally, mention should be made of blue, because it is used in the Catholic Eastern Churches. Blue is not an approved liturgical color in the Latin rite of the Church, but Eastern rites use blue during Advent. Both Lent and Advent are penitential seasons. Lent is more penitential because the focus is on self-denial and subduing the flesh. Even more so, the faithful call to mind that the death of Christ, which we remember during the Holy Triduum, took place because of our sin. Advent is penitential, but more in a sense of joyful preparation. The faithful anticipate during Advent season the first coming of the Savior. The Eastern rites signify these different penitential emphases of Advent and Lent by using blue (usually a light blue) during Advent.
If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
David E. Utsler
Catholics United for the Faith
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