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St. James
Episcopal Church

Colors of the Liturgical Seasons


The church seasons are celebrated with traditional colors that evolved in the early Roman Catholic Church. The following are some of the colors of the seasons and what they mean.

Ordinary Time – Green

The color that is used on the altar and on the priest's vestments during Ordinary Time is Green, which is a sign of hope or triumph of life over death, like re-growth in springtime.

The Symbol for Ordinary Time is called a "Chi Rho". It comprises the first two letters of the Greek word for Messiah - Christos - the letter Chi looks like the letter "X", and the letter Rho looks like the letter "P". In the times of persecution of the early Church, this abbreviation became a symbol representing Jesus Christ.

When referring to the liturgical year the term "ordinary" does not mean "usual or average." Ordinary here means "not seasonal." Ordinary Time is that part of the liturgical year that lies outside the seasons of Lent-Easter and Advent-Christmas.

In Ordinary Time, the church celebrates the mystery of Christ not in one specific aspect but in all its aspects. The readings during Ordinary Time help to instruct us on how to live out our Christian faith in our daily lives. The Feast of Christ the King is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time and of the liturgical year.

Advent Season – Purple (with Rose on the third Sunday)

Since Advent is a time of expectation and preparation, the colors violet or purple are used in the vestments and decorations. Purple is a color that was reserved for use by royalty, and so it is used in Advent to symbolize the coming of Christ our King, as celebrated at Christmas and as we prepare for the coming of God's Kingdom.

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudate Sunday. Caudate is the Latin word for rejoice. The vestments worn on this day may be the color rose to symbolize the hope for the coming of Jesus.

The symbol for Advent is the Advent Wreath. It represents a custom that Christians have followed for centuries. The circle of the wreath recalls all the years the people waited for the Messiah. The four candles on the wreath remind us that there are four weeks in Advent. Each week one additional candle is lighted, so by the end of Advent all four are lit. The candles remind us that we are preparing for Jesus, the Light of the World.  The candle lit for the third week of Advent is rose or pink, representing the hope for the coming of Jesus.

Advent begins the liturgical year four Sundays before December 25 and ends at the Christmas Vigil Mass. This season, has two meanings, each reflected by the term "advent" which means "coming".  First, this season is a period to prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Second, it is a time to reflect and prepare for Christ's second coming at the end of time.

Christmas Season – Gold

The color of the vestments for this season is gold, white or silver, representing joy innocence and holiness. A symbol for Christmas is the manger. A trough used to feed animals served as the first crib for the baby Jesus. The star proclaimed the coming of the King to the Wise Men who followed it so they could pay homage to Jesus. The star can also be a symbol of Christmas.

Christmas is our celebration of the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God who became one of us, the promised Messiah. The Christmas season celebrates the early manifestations of Jesus, from his birth to the beginning of his public ministry. The central figures in the drama of the birth of Christ are Mary, Joseph and John the Baptist.

The Christmas season begins at the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve and ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Sunday after January 6.

Lenten Season – Purple

Purple or violet are used on the altar and vestments during Lent.  These are symbolic of reflection and penance.

The symbol for Lent is the Cross. It symbolizes Jesus' victory over death and the hope of our salvation. It reminds us that we are called by Jesus to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves, and that we should improve those things that help us do this and change those things that get in the way.

Lent is the time of preparation for Easter, the greatest Feast of the Church. During Lent, we are asked to focus on changing our lives through prayer, penance and love. In doing this, we try to become more like Christ in His love for God and others by His dying and rising to new life.

The Lenten Season begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Thursday of Holy Week up to the beginning of the Mass of the Lord's Supper. From the time of the early Church, the 40 days of Lent are counted from the First Sunday of Lent until Holy Thursday, with Sundays excluded from the total.

The Term "Lent" comes from a Middle English word that means springtime. Like the season of spring, Lent is a time of renewal.

Easter Season – White

The color used during the Easter season is white, signifying the joy of Christ's resurrection. (On Good Friday, black may also be used as a symbol of death.)

A Symbol for Easter is the Paschal Candle and water which represent the light and new life of Christ's resurrection and the water of our baptism and rebirth.

The Easter Season flows from the Easter Vigil and concludes fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday. The last day of the Easter season is Pentecost Sunday, on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. On this day red is the liturgical color, representing the Fire of the Holy Spirit. 

Easter is a joyous season in which we celebrate Christ's resurrection and ascension, as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church. This is a time of rejoicing, when Alleluia should be sung with heartfelt emotion.

Every Sunday during the year the Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. However, St. Athanasius regarded the fifty days of the Easter Season as "the Great Sunday".   Reflecting this view, the Sundays of the Easter season are not called Sundays after Easter, but Sundays of Easter. For example, the Sunday that follows Easter is the Second Sunday of Easter.