On Sunday mornings, do you notice when the cloths
on the front of the pulpit and lectern change colors?
Christians take time seriously. We arrange our calendar to keep track of time, and the historical events through which God is revealed. So each year, beginning with Advent, we walk through our faith history, reflecting in each season on our heritage and our calling.
We are guided in this journey by seasonal colors. They appear on clergy vestments and on the hangings [paraments or antependia] placed on the pulpit and lectern. Telling time in the church means showing our colors and remembering what they mean for us as Christians.
Most of the year is Ordinary Time. This really means that we are not in a special season, like Advent or Lent, which looks forward to a great festival day. But these green Sundays are also time to remember the mission of the Christian Church, and that God is calling us to work and worship in the ordinary places of our own lives.
The Christian year begins with Advent, a season of waiting for the birth of Jesus. The colors we use are violet or purple or blue, colors of royalty, and of penitence. On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, when we light the Joy candle for Mary, pink or rose is optional for the color of the day.
When Christmas comes, we enter a season of celebration which lasts through Christmastide until two weeks after Epiphany. To celebrate the coming of the Christ-light we use white or gold, remembering the visit of the Magi, the first miracle at Cana, and the baptism which revealed Jesus’ identity as God’s Son.
Ordinary time returns until a white Sunday marks the Transfiguration, and provides an alert that the season of Lent is about to begin. Because this is a season of reflection and penitence, the Church again wears violet or purple or blue. Some churches use brown or gray during Holy Week; some churches strip away all hangings and clergy stoles on Good Friday.
Easter dawns with joy, and the whole Church celebrates. The colors of Eastertide are white and gold. For the Great Fifty Days [forty days of Jesus’ appearances on earth before the Ascension plus 10 days of waiting for Pentecost] the color white calls us to jubilation.
When Pentecost comes, the festival color is red, the color of the Holy Spirit and the color of martyrs. This introduces more Ordinary time: time for the Church to be about serious discipleship! When red appears in other services, it is related to those two meanings. So red is the color for ordination, confirmation, Saints days, the Reformation and Thanksgiving.