What do the liturgical colors mean?

April 30, 2013

The different colors are drawn from creation to remind those participating in liturgy of the different blessings of God. A brief summary of their usage, according to the church year, follows:

WHITE – light, innocence, purity, joy, triumph, glory
  • Season of Christmas
  • Season of Easter
  • Feasts of the Lord, other than of His passion
  • Feasts of Mary, the angels, and saints who were not martyrs
  • All Saints (1 November)
  • Feasts of the Apostles
  • Nuptial Masses
  • Masses for the dead (Requiem Masses) when the deceased is a baptized child who died before the age of reason

Note: White is the color of Popes’ non-liturgical dress. White can be replaced by Silver.

RED – the Passion, blood, fire, God’s love, martydom
  • Feasts of the Lord’s passion, Blood, and Cross
  • Feasts of the martyrs
  • Palm Sunday
  • Pentecost

Note: Red is the color of Cardinals’ non-liturgical dress.

VIOLET – penance, humility, melancholy
  • Season of Advent
  • Season of Septuagesima
  • Season of Lent
  • Rogation Days
  • Ember Days (except for Pentecost Ember Days)
  • Vigils except for Ascension and Pentecost
  • Good Friday

Note: Violet, literally “amaranth red,” is the color of Bishops’, Archbishops’, and Patriarchs’ non-liturgical dress.

GREEN – the Holy Spirit, life eternal, hope
  • Time After Epiphany
  • Time After Pentecost
BLACK – mourning, sorrow (optional usage)
  • All Souls Day
  • Masses for the dead (Requiem Masses), except for baptized children who’ve died before the age of reason
ROSE – joy (optional usage)
  • Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday of Advent)
  • Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent)
GOLD – joy (optional usage)
  • Gold can replace white, red, or green (but not violet or black)

If the missal has all the readings for each day of the year, usually the Missal will have five ribbons–yellow or gold, white, black, blue or violet, green and red–though this is not required. The colors correspond to the liturgical colors of the year.