The Color Purple 

This past week we transitioned from the liturgical season of Ordinary Time to this current season of Lent. Just as the buds on trees reveal the transition from winter to spring, the warm weather and lush greenery signify the summer, the bright foliage announces the arrival of autumn, and the barren appearance of the world tells us it’s winter, there are signs in our liturgy that indicate what season we’re in. One of those signs is the color of the priest’s vestments. In the years following the Council of Trent (16th century), the Church established six colors that could be used in Catholic liturgies: white, red, black, green, rose, purple, and gold.  The most obvious sign that we have moved from Ordinary Time into Lent is the change from green-colored vestments to purple-colored ones.  

So, why do we use the color purple during Lent?  Purple is fitting for several reasons.  First, since purple dye was the most expensive color available in ancient times, it was the color worn by royalty.  We remember that during Our Lord’s trial, Pontius Pilate sent Christ to be interrogated by Herod Antipas, who was disappointed that Jesus would perform no miracle for his amusement. Out of spite, Antipas dressed Christ in a purple robe before sending Him back to Pilate. The gesture was intended as a mockery of Jesus, but actually expressed the truth about Our Lord’s royal dignity. The same thing was true about the sign hung above Him on the cross, that declared Him to be “King of the Jews.” It is interesting to consider the fact that Our Lord almost certainly never wore such regal clothes in all His life, except for the ones given to Him by Herod Antipas during His Passion.  Thus, the color associated with royalty has also come to evoke sorrow in the heart of believers for our sins, for which Christ suffered and died.   

The color purple also reflects the natural season of spring.  In most romance languages, such as Italian, Spanish, and French, the word for Lent is derived from the word “forty,” in connection with the forty days preceding Easter.  The English word “Lent,” however, comes from the Old English word for “lengthen.”  That’s because spring is the time of year when the days begin to significantly lengthen, filling us with anticipation for the world which lingers in winter sleep to awake once again with the blossoming of trees and the blooming of flowers. The purple color evokes the dawn of a new day, which is a sign of joyful hope for those who have dwelled in darkness, that we will soon live in the light if we remain focused and persevere through Lent to the season of Easter, with its white vestments representing light and life. 

posted 2/25/23

One thought on “The Color Purple 

  1. I love this message about purple since it was my husband Julio’s favorite color
    It’s good to know that it has a holy significance. I don’t know how you do it picking messages for us that hit the spot. Thank you father.

    Lucy Monteleone


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