by Olivia Martin
Have you ever wondered why the colors of the vestments your priests wear at Mass are sometimes different? From white and green, to purple or red, all of them symbolize something about that day’s Mass.
The Leaven spoke with Father Matthew Schiffelbein, pastor of Christ the King Parish in Topeka, in an attempt to better understand what the vestment colors symbolize and how they help us recognize the “seasons” of the church.
Q: Why do our priests sometimes wear different colored vestments at Mass?
A: The color of the priest’s vestments actually indicate the time of year in the church.
This is because the church has its own calendar — and the liturgical colors help the faithful pay attention to the events in the life of Christ.
Q: What are the liturgical seasons?
A: The liturgical seasons, also know as the seasons of the church, are periods of the year during which Catholics focus on different aspects of the faith.
They move through the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to help the faithful remember the history of salvation and remind them of Christ’s presence.
There are six seasons of the church: Advent, Christmas, Lent, the paschal Triduum, Easter and Ordinary Time.
“The liturgical seasons have a rhythm of fasting and feasting,” said Father Schiffelbein. “Even within the week itself, every Friday is considered a little Good Friday and every Sunday is considered a little Easter.”
Q: Do the seasons of the church — or liturgical seasons — correspond with the four seasons of the calendar year?
A: No, they do not.
Q: When does the liturgical year begin?
A: The liturgical year begins with the season of Advent. And Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.
“That is the time we are preparing for the birth of Christ,” said Father Schiffelbein, “so it is the beginning of the mystery of salvation — hence, the beginning of the [church] calendar year.”
Q: When does the liturgical year end?
A: The liturgical year ends on Christ the King Sunday, which is typically late November.
Q: How do the colors of the vestments correspond to the seasons of the church?
A: “The colors of the vestments help to express what’s happening in the season itself,” said Father Schiffelbein.
Advent and Lent are purple to symbolize anticipation, preparation and penance leading to Christmas and Easter. Christmas and Easter are white to celebrate the joy of new life. Ordinary Time is green, symbolizing new life and growth.
“This is the time when [Jesus] is out preaching and teaching and healing,” said Father Schiffelbein. “It really is the time when we are growing as his disciples, growing as his followers, so the green is that growth in the life of discipleship.”
Q: What about when priests wear red, rose or black vestments?
A: “The red vestments are worn on Pentecost for the fire of the Holy Spirit,” said Father Schiffelbein. “They’re also worn on memorials of martyrs [to symbolize] the blood of the martyrs. We also wear them on Good Friday in honor of Jesus’ passion and on Palm Sunday for the same reason.”
The rose vestments can be worn two Sundays out of the year: on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent — the midpoints of both seasons.
“The rose vestments . . . indicate a greater joy [as Christmas and Easter approach],” explained Father Schiffelbein.
Black vestments are rarely seen, but they are an option for funerals as well as for All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2.
“It is a reminder of the reality that we are all going to die and that we are sinners who need God’s mercy,” said Father Schiffelbein.
Q: Do the seasons of the church follow each other chronologically?
A: The season of Advent always begins four Sundays before Christmas. The Christmas season lasts three weeks ending on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
“Sandwiched between the end of Christmas and the start of Lent is a portion of Ordinary Time,” said Father Schiffelbein. “Its length will depend on when Ash Wednesday and Easter fall.”
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, “40” days (not literally) before Easter Sunday.
“Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox,” explained Father Schiffelbein.
And the paschal Triduum lasts from Holy Thursday evening to Easter Sunday.
The church then enters the Easter season until Pentecost. It resumes Ordinary Time until the end of the liturgical year on Christ the King Sunday.