Seasons of the Church Year and Liturgical Colors Lent
(The six weeks before Holy Week)
The traditions of Lent are derived from the season’s origin as a time when the church prepared candidates, or “catechumens,” for their baptism in to the Body of Christ. It eventually became a season of preparation not only for catechumens (new members) but also for the whole congregation. Self-examination, study, fasting, prayer and works of love are disciplines historically associated with Lent. Conversion-literally, the “turning around” or reorientation of our lives towards God- is the theme of Lent. Both as individuals and as a community, we look inward and reflect on our readiness to follow Jesus in his journey towards the cross. The forty days of Lent correspond to the forty-day temptation of Jesus in the wilderness and the forty– year journey of Israel from slavery to a new community.
On Ash Wednesday, ashes are placed on the foreheads of the congregation as a symbol that we have come from dust and one day will return to dust. It is one of many Lenten and Easter customs that remind us of our historical connection with Jewish tradition. With this sobering reminder of life’s fragility, we begin a spiritual quest that continues until the Easter Vigil, when new members of the church are often baptized and the entire congregation joins in reaffirmation of baptismal vows. Most of this time of preparation is symbolized by the color Violet, though the season is bracketed by the mourning Black of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As an alternative to Violet, some churches have begun to use brown, beige or gray (the colors of rough unbleached cloth like burlap) to reflect the season’s mood of penitence and simplicity. The somber colors are a reminder of the unbleached “sackcloth” worn by mourners and penitents in the Jewish tradition.
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons became a common practice in the Western church in about the fourth 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 the day. Black is the traditional color of mourning in some cultures. Red evokes the color of blood, 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.