Friday, February 22, 2008

Liturgy and colors

As I mentioned in a previous post, I wear a stole over my Geneva gown for worship. There are lots of stoles, though-- and most of them have a particular meaning. What about the stoles I wear?

My stoles follow the traditional colors that correspond to the
liturgical seasons. Clothes are inevitably colored; the historic church took advantage of this fact to bring symbolism and reminders into worship in new ways, though we often take them for granted. In liturgical observance, there are four basic and traditional colors:
  • Purple signifies wealth, power, and royalty-- primarily because the dyes required to make purple were very expensive until more recently. Thus, purple is a kingly color, and signifies a celebration of the coming of the King. The seasons of Advent and Lent are times of preparation for the King, so purple is worn during these times.
  • White is used throughout scripture to signify purity, and especially purity in Christ. It is also a color associated with angels, as well as resurrection. White is the color that is appropriate during the seasons of Christmastide and Easter.
  • Red is also a color that is found throughout Scripture, signifying blood, sin, and death. It has also been a color associated with martyrdom and fire. Thus, red is the color for the last week of Lent, also known as Holy Week, and for Pentecost Sunday (when fire descended on believers as a sign of the Holy Spirit).
  • Green is the "default" color, and is worn during the days following particular days (that is, ones that have a definitive day where the celebration takes place; the Sundays in these seasons have no particular names, just numbers) such as Pentecost and Epiphany. These days are sometimes called "ordinary days." Green is an earthy color, and as the color of vegetation has always been regarded as a color signifying life and health.

There are other colors that are used less frequently, and these also have significance (though they are not required as replacements of the traditional four colors): gold and ivory are accepted alternatives to white, rose (a color associated with joy) is sometimes inserted for the third Sunday in Advent and, occasionally, for the fourth Sunday in Lent; natural (un-dyed) or "hemp" colors are sometimes used on Maundy Thursday; blue is a color of hope, and is used by some during Advent; and black is used, though very infrequently, on the most solemn days.

Likewise, there are special days when colors change: white is used for weddings, for any secular holidays that the church might observe, and also for funerals (think resurrection)-- though some will use black for funerals instead. Black is also occasionally used on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and All Souls' Day. Red is used for ordinations and installations, as these are times of particular recognition of the Holy Spirit's presence.

As we move through the seasons, the colors we use are helpful reminders of the many seasons and emotions of life. I hope you will find them a useful addition to our worship in these ways.

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