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Liturgical Colours – Part 1

Happy New Year!

How is the new decade treating you? 2020 started well for me. I had a birthday, and turned 21 – the Celsius version of my actual age! I mention it because of the many wishes, cake and cards. I want to say thank you to you all, not only for your birthday wishes, but also for the Christmas Cards too. It’s impossible for me to respond in kind, so can I wish you the same kind thoughts and add a prayer for your happiness and health during 2020.

At the end of last year I spoke to the Mother’s Union about Advent. Due to factors beyond their control, the team could not write up the meeting details, so they have asked me to mention the talk in this article. They have a full program of talks and, as a member, the ones I’ve heard have been varied and interesting. Why not pop in on 4th February or any first Tuesday of a month? Meeting starts 2pm in the church hall at All Saints.

During my talk I mentioned how the Advent and Lent colours in church are purple and that one Sunday in each of these festivals is pink. Many people asked me about the use of colours in church, so this article is my chance to give a more detailed explanation of not just the colours, but the rhythm and shape of a year in church.

By colours I mean the colours of altar frontals, lectern drops and clergy robes. They provide a marker for the day and the season and are part of the rhythm and cycle of the church year. Indeed, that year echoes our lives and what the New Testament tells us about the life of Jesus, who, as we say in the Eucharist, has died, is risen and will come in glory. To understand this cycle we need to set out the church year, week by week. This unravelling best     begins with the fixed point of December 25th, Christmas Day.

Christmas uses White or Gold, the colours of joy and purity. Unlike most seasons there is a choice of two. The full range is gold/white, purple, red, and green. Sometimes a different red is used for Holy Week, advent can use a deep blue, and pink appears just for two Sundays in a year. The colours are used at different points in church occasions. For instance gold/white is used for ordination, marriage and baptism and purple for funerals. As I describe the use of these colours, see if you can make the link between their meaning and why they’re picked for life events / church seasons.

Knowing when Christmas Day is, we can start to build the circle of the church year. We can set four purple weeks before Christmas for the four weeks of Advent. The first Sunday in Advent is the   actual start of the church year. This season is one of two ‘purple preparation seasons’ as I call them. Purple is the colour for       Penance and Preparation.

Christmas Day, like any date in any calendar or diary, is solar based. That is, the day maps on to the same part of the earth’s orbit around the sun. This orbit gives us the natural cycle of seasons and daylight time. As someone who once studied physics and chemistry and believes that God created everything, I find it fascinating how the physics of the year are so special, but that’s another article for another time!

Back to our church year! The next ‘fixed’ point is Easter Day. Well, I say fixed, but it isn’t that certain, because Easter depends on the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, so it’s not that straight forward to predict. You need a formula! It’s best left to others to get that headache, but if you want to check it out, head for Wikipedia. Like newspapers, don’t believe everything in Wikipedia but search for Computus and you’ll have the history and the formula. An easier way to know when Easter is, is to check ‘The Church in Wales Almanac’. There’s one in every church in the parish! It will tell you what colours are in use and a whole range of other items.

I’ll let you sit down and take an aspirin now, all that crazy maths for Easter has given me a headache, I don’t know about you? Until next month, here’s a diagram of the church colours and their meanings. We didn’t print it in the magazine….Remember that awful gaff on the snooker show, Pot Black? When the show first came out, there were still black and white TVs in use. The commentator once said, “For viewers in black and white, the blue ball is next to the brown.”!!!! We wanted to avoid that gaff in our black and white printed magazine!

Until next month,

Geoff Lunn