ELCA Church Seasons





Church Seasons and their Colors

The meaning and Use of Liturgical Colors


Liturgical Colors and the Seasons of the Church Year

We see the colors on the altar and pulpit change every now and again throughout the church year, yet do we know what they are and what they stand for…..well, here is a brief explanation of what they are and as the seasons change we’ll learn a little more detail of each.

The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons became a common practice in the Western church in about the fourth century. At first, usages varied considerably but by the 12th century Pope Innocent III systematized the use of five colors: Violet, White, Black, Red and Green. The Lutheran and Anglican churches that emerged from the Reformation retained the traditional colors but they disappeared entirely (along with most other ritual) from the worship of the Reformed churches. During the 20th century, the ecumenical Liturgical Movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual—including the traditional colors of the Western church. To these have been added Blue and Gold—colors that were used in some Western rites before the 12th century.

Briefly, the colors express emotions and ideas that are associated with each of the seasons of the liturgical year. Violet is the ancient royal color and therefore a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ. Violet is also associated with repentance from sin. White and Gold symbolize the brightness of day. Black is the traditional color of mourning in some cultures. Red evokes the color of blood, and therefore is the color of martyrs and of Christ's death on the Cross. Red also symbolizes fire, and therefore is the color of the Holy Spirit. Green is the color of growth. Blue is the color of the sky and in some rites honors Mary.

The use of traditional colors, however, connects us to the wider Body of Christ and provides worship planners with visual aids that mark the transition from one season to another. Colors can be used in altar and pulpit decorations, vestments, banners and tapestries.

                                                             Year C: 2012 to 2013

Advent - December 2, 2012 through December 23, 2012;    Christmas  - December 24, 2012 through January 6, 2013;   Time after Epiphany January 13, 2013 through February 10, 2013;   Lent February 13, 2013 through March 24, 2013;   The Three Days - March 28, 2013 through March 30, 2013;   Easter - March 31, 2013 through May 19, 2013;   Time after Pentecost - May 26, 2013 through November 24, 2013


In the Christian tradition colors are used for vestments and paraments, but a unified system of colors developed only gradually and haphazardly until and through the Middle Ages. Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America provides a system of colors for use by its congregations; for the most part, the same system is also used by Roman and Anglican churches, at least in the United States; and by many churches around the world, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

The colors serve to adorn the worship space, and to call attention to the nature of the season or festival being celebrated. A brief summary of their usage, according to the church year, follows.


Advent: Blue is used for its references to hope. It originated in Scandinavia, probably because purple dye was too expensive for churches to use. The alternate color for Advent is Purple, the royal color of the coming King (note that this is a different meaning than when it is used in Lent; see below).

Christmas: White is used, as a reference to the purity of the newborn Christ, and to our light and joy in Him.

Epiphany of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).

Baptism of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).

Sundays after the Epiphany: Green is used for its symbolism of our growth in Christ. Green, in a sense, is a "neutral color," used when more festive or more somber color is not appointed.

Transfiguration of Our Lord: White (see Christmas).

Ash Wednesday: Black is the preferred color, since it is the color of the ashes to which we will all return. Purple is the alternate color for this first day of Lent.

Lent: Purple is indicated, as the stark color of repentance and solemnity.

Sunday of the Passion: Scarlet is the preferred color of this first day of Holy Week, as it suggests the deep color of blood. (Scarlet is to be distinguished from the brighter color of Red, which is appointed for the Day of Pentecost, martyrs days, and certain church celebrations). If a parish does not have scarlet vestments, Purple may be used.

Days of Holy Week: Scarlet or Purple may be used for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday: For this fourth day of Holy Week, celebrated as the institution of the Lord's Supper, Scarlet or White is used.

Good Friday: No vestments or paraments are used on this day, after the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday night.

Vigil of Easter: White as the color of joy in the Resurrection is used on this night.

Easter Day: On this one day of the church year, Gold may be used. White is the alternate, perhaps with Gold running through it. The Gold color indicates that this day is the "Queen of Feasts," unique in the entire church year.

Sundays of Easter: White (see Vigil of Easter).

Day of Pentecost: Red as the color of fire is used on this day when we remember the tongues of fire descended on the crowd in Jerusalem. In contrast to the color of Scarlet, Pentecost's Red is a bright color.

The Holy Trinity: White is appointed, the expression of joy in the mystery of the Triune God.

Other Sundays after Pentecost: Green is used, to indicate our growth in faith as we follow the teachings and ministry of Christ.

Christ the King: The final day of the church year uses White, a festive color of light, joy, and the celebration of our Lord.

Lesser festivals and commemorations are White, unless a martyr is celebrated, in which case bright Red is used.



Music: Bless The Lord