Liturgical Colors for the Church Year

Liturgical colors  used for Ecclesiastical vestments and hangings can be a bit tricky. How are you able to tell the correct color to be used for the various days of the church year? The most important “trick” to keep in mind is knowing which Ecclesiastical color system is followed by your church body.

Knowing the correct color for the day or festival can be quite the task, even for a small church.  I often get a call, or get waylaid on a Sunday or after an evening service to clarify which set should be used, especially for those quick one day changes. Our church is a tiny church, with a very simple sacristy, with a limited number of options in vestments and hangings at the moment. Despite these facts, confusion still happens in a small church with limited Ecclesiastical Vestments.

How does you make it easier for  a rotating group of altar guild members to know which color should be in use? For my church, which is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, we follow the color system put out by the Synod, which is updated annually to follow the church year and readings.  There is a color calendar based on LCMS 2014-2015 One Year Series Color Chart or the LCMS 2014-2015 Three Year Series B Color Chart. The color calendar is updated annually to coincided with the church year calendar and the readings for the day or season.

Following that color chart, our church body calls for the use of black vestments and hangings on two occasions during the church year. The first is Ash Wednesday, the second is Good Friday. Following Ash Wednesday, we switch to purple until Palm Sunday, at which time we switch to a deep red which remains through Maundy Thursday.  A rose set is planned, but not yet completed, which will be used on the fourth Sunday in Lent (and the third Sunday in Advent). But let’s get back to the use of black within my church body.

Black:

Black is seen very seldom during the year. The calendar calls for its use only twice; on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. There’s no mistaking the message that this sober color gives. Black is the absence of light. Good Friday, or Black Friday in combination with Ash Wednesday, calls for sober reflection on the cost of our redemption. Without Christ’s sacrifice on the day the sky turned dark and hid the light of the sun, there would be no bright Light of Christ to live in, nor new life in Christ to enjoy. – LCMS Church Year Liturgical Colors

While researching the use of black within the Lutheran Church, is seems black was also the color used for funerals, as noted in documents dating from the early 1900’s.  Now, the color of the current season is used for funerals.  The use of colors has changed over time, or perhaps we lose or forget colors and their  reasons over time, or limited resources force the use of fewer colors.  But following the color charts by seasons as we do today is still fairly recent within the history of the church vestments.

Lutheran Liturgical Calendar Wall Chart
Lutheran Liturgical Calendar Wall Chart
Episcopal Liturgical Calendar
Episcopal Liturgical Calendar

Today, many resources are available such as the liturgical wall calendars above, which may be hung in the sacristy. The calendar show which colors are used for the various seasons and festival days.

Stepping back in time and looking at the color chart from Hinda Hand’s book Church Needlework, we might gain a clue as to why some churches no longer use or are aware of the use of Black for certain days.

 

Liturgical Colors for the Church Year by Hinda Hands
Liturgical Colors for the Church Year by Hinda Hands

In consulting Hinda Hands’ book Church Needlework, she notes that:

“Wherever Black was ordered, Violet, Purple, Dark Blue, and Ash-colour, or Grey, seem to have been considered equivalent. So Green also replaced yellow.”

On Hinda Hands’ Color Chart above entitled “Table of Liturgical Colours According to the Ancient use of Five English Dioceses or Conventual Churches compared with that of Rome,”  she lists colors for Westminster, Sarum, Exeter, Wells, Lichfield and Rome. The colors for the Lent, the first four weeks for Westminster and Lichfield are listed as black; Exeter is Violet as is Rome, while Sarum is listed as Unknown (in practice White, red). The last two Sundays in Lent vary equally between Dioceses using either Red or Violet.

In Beryl Dean’s book “Ecclesiastical Embroidery” she discussed color noting:

Lenten Array, “off white.” Used throughout Lent, or for the first four Sundays only.

Black for Funerals, All Soul’s Day (or blue or violet) in the Church of England and in the Roman Church, Good Friday.

If one were to go back even further in time, churches used their best set, regardless of color for festival days, and whatever else they might have for funeral or ordinary days.  The same often held true for poor churches that did not have the means of having sets of every color for the various seasons of the church year.

The best advice given in many of the classic books on vestment making and Ecclesiastical embroidery is to consult with the pastor or someone from the dioceses or Synod before embarking on the making of any vestment project.  If that someone has  knowledge of church history, that would be even better.

I know there are other color charts similar to the Hinda Hands color chart, but for tonight those books are a bit illusory, and morning will be here far too soon.  When the resources resurface, I’ll be sure to give an update.

Solo Dei Gloria

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2 Comments »

  1. I think the “off-white” that Beryl Dean talks about is usually called “Ash.” It is the color of unbleached linen. I was looking at the Almy catalog yesterday, which has a new set of paraments in ash, oxblood and black for Holy Week – a very handsome combination.

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