Currently we are wearing green. Green is simply the color of “Ordinary Time,” the time when we have no special seasons and no particular feasts. There is a good meaning to green for Ordinary Time, for it is the color of creation in bloom. Trees and grass give us a vibrant green that speaks of life that God gives us in nature. As the color of nature shows God in the world around us, so Ordinary Time speaks of the unfolding of God’s plan in our everyday lives.
All of that talk of nature is very helpful, but it’s probably not the original reason for using green in Ordinary Time. Originally it was a more simple reason. When cloth was colored with natural dyes, green was least expensive. It would therefore be used for the most commonly used clothing. As for liturgical vestments, green would be what was most frequently used. But I prefer the more symbolic version.
In the earliest days, probably all vestments were white. I wrote last week that the vestments are based on the everyday clothes of the first century. A Roman gentleman would wear white for special occasions. As white is the color of holiness, as I explained last week, we use white for the most important times. The great feasts of Easter and Christmas, along with the feasts of the saints, call for white vestments. We do sometimes dress the white up with shades of gold to show the importance of a feast, but even then the basic color is white.
Red is the most obvious color. Most frequently, red is the color of blood. So along with the celebration of Christ’s Passion, we wear red for the feast of any martyr. In addition, red is the color of flame. Thus we wear red for Pentecost and for any celebration of the Holy Spirit, who came to the Apostles at Pentecost as tongues of flame.
That leaves purple (or violet) as the fourth of the common colors. We use that for the penitential season of Lent and for the anticipatory season of Advent. When I show the children the colors, they often ask why purple should represent those seasons. I’m never quite sure how to answer, for I’ve never seen a real explanation. I suspect that purple is simply a darker color, and those are “darker” seasons. That explanation does go along with the two days during the year when we have the option of wearing a fifth color, rose (or pink). On the Third Sunday of Advent or the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we brighten up the season just a bit with the slightly brighter color of rose. Those rose vestments offer a sign of hope that the season will come to an end, that the waiting of Advent or the penance of Lent will soon be complete.
There was one other color that was used in former days. In funeral masses, we used to wear black to show our mourning for the deceased. While that color has never been rescinded, it is common today to wear white at funerals as a sign of our hope in the Resurrection.
On a final note, I am soon beginning my vacation. I will be away from this Wednesday through Friday, August 3.