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Liturgy:Colour

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Many churches have a tradition of using different colours to mark out the different seasons of the liturgical year. Although a number of colour schemes have been in use historically, the most common today is the modern Roman scheme of four basic colours: white, red, purple and green. To these four, gold, pink and black are added in certain traditions. The Anglican tradition of unbleached linen during Lent is called Lenten array.

The liturgical colours decorate various parts of the church: often the altar, pulpit and lectern. Occasionally, flowers, banners and other decorations are coordinated to match. The vestments of the clergy, particularly the stole and chausable, are usually in the liturgical colour.

White White is the colour used for celebrations. It is the colour for Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Trinity Sunday, as well as the days of Christmastide, some or all of Epiphanytide, Eastertide, most important saints' days (except those where red is used) and any other major celebration not given a specific colour. White is also the usual liturgical colour for baptism, confirmation, ordination and marriage. In mediaeval Latin this colour was known as albus or candidus.
Red Red is the colour of fire — and thus of Pentecost, and sometimes confirmation and ordination — and blood — and thus of Holy Week and martyrs. Some churches also use red for the Sundays between All Saints' and Advent. In mediaeval Latin, rubeus, subrubeus and coccineus described various shades of red.
Purple Purple is the colour of preparation: the colour of Advent and Lent. There has always been much variation with this liturgical colour, ranging from 'Roman purple' through violet and indigo to blue. Purpureus was used in mediaeval Latin to describe red-purple, while violaceus was blue-purple.
Green Green is the colour of creation, and thus Ordinary Time. It seems that green (viridis) and yellow (croceus) were interchangable in the past.
Gold Gold is an alternative to white, especially on major feasts.
Pink Pink, or rose, vestments are sometimes worn for the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
Black Black is sometimes used as the colour for funerals and days of mourning.
Lenten array Lenten array, or unbleached linen, is a particularly Anglican alternative to purple during Lent.

Colours of the Sarum Use

The Sarum Use was the mediaeval liturgy of most of England. It had a scheme of liturgical colours that was quite different from the Roman scheme. At first, it seems the scheme was very simple. A church's best vestments were used on major feasts, and a more plain set was used at other times. The festival colour was almost invariably white or gold, but some places used red. On normal days, and especially during penitential seasons, a drab colour — brown, grey, blue or green was used. Larger churches had more sets of vestments, and so they began to complicate the scheme. Red, usually a brick red, was the usual colour for Sundays that were neither great feasts nor in penitential seasons. Unbleached linen was generally used for Lent, but brown or green are also attested. Red was used on Ash Wednesday, throughout Passiontide and on feasts of apostles ad martyrs, and, in some places, was more like scarlet to distinguish from the ferial brick red. White or gold was used throughout Eastertide and at major feasts, and yellow was used at the feasts of confessors.

See also the Wikipedia article on liturgical colours.

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