Colouring the Calendar

 by Sr Ann Catherine Swailes

The observant among you will have noticed that at the moment the clothes worn by the priest at mass are not white, red or purple, but green, and, with a few interruptions, this will be the case until the beginning of Advent. What is the significance of all this?


White and gold, are the tones associated with those times of the year when we most straightforwardly praise God for his wonderful love for us: Christmas when he comes into the world and supremely Easter when he rises from the dead.  It is also the colour for feasts of many of the saints, which reminds us that holiness isn’t something we achieve by our own efforts, but only possible because Jesus has gone before us through death: every feast of a saint is in a sense a feast of the resurrection..

Violet is the colour of repentance, worn during Lent and Advent, both times when the Church asks us to reflect on the ways in which we all of us fall short of the perfect love and trust that God asks of each of us. When the soldiers mocked Jesus before his crucifixion they put on him a purple garment. They did this because the colour was associated with royalty, and they were making fun of his claim to be king of the Jews, without realising that he is in fact king of the universe.  So, it has been suggested, by wearing purple for penance we’re both acknowledging the ways in which we “mock” Jesus by our sins, and saying that we accept him as our King. But once during Advent, and once again during Lent, the colour scheme changes to pink (or rose as it’s properly known) – the lighter colour suggesting a lightening of mood as we remind ourselves what all the penance really for- bringing us closer to God, which is the ultimate cause for rejoicing.

Then there’s red, the colour of blood, used on Palm Sunday and Good Frida as we recall the death of Jesus. But it also a fiery colour, so it is worn on Pentecost to recall the fire of the Holy Spirit. And both because they shed their blood for Christ and because they were sustained in their sacrifice by the Holy Spirit, it is also the colour worn on the feasts of martyrs


Finally: green. This is the default colour – the one worn when “nothing special” is happening in the Church’s calendar.  It is the colour most naturally associated with new life, and with the natural world. It’s surely wonderful that this is the colour we see most of:  reminding us both of the beauty of God’s creation and of the new life that is always offered in Christ. 

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