Catholic Classroom: The Colors of Liturgical Vestments
Question: Why does a priest wear different colored vestments?
Throughout the liturgical year, a priest wears different colored vestments for Mass depending on the liturgical season and which Mass he is celebrating. The colors have symbolic meaning and mark the passage of time. The four most common colors for vestments are green, white, violet, and red.
- Green: Priests wear green vestments for Masses in Ordinary Time. Green symbolizes hope and life.
- White: White is used for a number of feast days, including feasts of the Lord (except for feasts of the Passion), Mary, saints who were not martyrs, and angels. Additionally, it is used during the seasons of Christmas and Easter. White symbolizes joy, light, and purity.
- Violet: The color violet is used during the seasons of penitence, Advent and Lent. It can also be used for Masses for the dead. Violet represents penance and mourning. Sometimes, blue will be used in the Eastern rite for Advent instead of violet to symbolize the different penitential nature of Advent.
- Red: Red represents both the Holy Spirit and suffering. Priests wear red vestments on Pentecost and confirmations, but also on feasts of suffering, such as feasts of the Lord’s Passion and feasts of the martyrs.
Along with these four main colors, there are also rose vestments and black vestments in the Roman rite. Priests may wear rose vestments, symbolizing joy, on Gaudete Sunday during Advent and Laetare Sunday during Lent. They may wear black vestments, representing mourning, on All Souls Day. Liturgical colors and the use of different vestments represent more than just small details to be remembered. The Mass is a sensory experience in which we touch and taste the Eucharist, smell the incense, hear the music and prayers, and see everything happening at the altar. The use of color heightens our experience by evoking certain moods and feelings to contribute to the whole experience of the sacrifice of the Mass.