why do priests wear vestments for mass
Each color has a unique meaning that points beyond itself. Throughout the Church s liturgical year, priests wear several different color vestments. The colors are not arbitrary, but reflect a deeper meaning that is meant to point us to a specific spiritual theme. Since ancient times, whenever a priest celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass he would put on a large poncho-like garment called aP
casula P(chasuble) that covered his ordinary clothing. This vestment developed from the ordinary Roman attire of a farmer, who wore the large poncho to protect him from the elements. By the 8th century the chasuble was reserved for clergy members and a few centuries later specific colors were in use. Initially white was the only liturgical color. By the 4th century different colors began being added added. It wasn t until the 12th century that the present-day colors were finalized. The colors were developed to highlight different spiritual truths according to the day in the Church s calendar. That way, when someone attended Mass they could immediately recognize the color and associate it with the season or day that was being celebrated. It led the people into a deeper understanding of the faith and reinforced whatever spiritual lesson that needed to be taught. Below is a list of the basic colors of the liturgical year, as well as some additional colors that were used in the history of the Church. White represents holiness, purity, cleanliness, and righteousness. White is worn during the joyful seasons of Easter and Christmas; on feasts of Our Lord not connected to his Passion and death; on feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and on feasts of angels and saints who did not shed their blood for the Christian faith.
Red is the color of blood and symbolizes love, fire, passion, and the blood of sacrifice. Red is worn on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, any day related to Jesus Passion, on Pentecost and on the feast days of those who died for the faith (martyrs). Green is a color associated with spring and used to represent new life, regeneration, and hope. It is now the color of Ordinary time, while the Orthodox use it during Pentecost. Violet Prepresents penance and sorrow for sin. It is worn during Advent and Lent, as well as other occasions connected to penance or reparation. Black is a color that traditionally symbolizes death and may be worn at funeral Masses or All Souls Day. Rose isPa color resplendent with joy, worn on only two days of the Church s liturgical year. Rose is worn on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Rose vestments signal the end of the penitential season and announce the upcoming celebration of Christmas or Easter. GoldP vestments are sometimes worn at Masses that denote a special day of celebration. This could be at Easter, Christmas or another day of great solemnity. It usually replaces white in the liturgical spectrum. SilverP is similar to gold in that it is a more solemn version of white. BlueP vestments (meaning the dominant color is blue) are worn in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and are only permitted in certain places. Historically the Church has also chosen different shades of each color for different feast days. In Byzantine and Orthodox churches they follow an ancient text that simply divides all colors intoPgeneral, dark and bright.
This allows for a great variation among the many different rites of the East. Everything has a purpose in the liturgy and is designed to lead the people into a deeper relationship with Christ. Ordinary Time, or the season in the liturgical calendar outside of Advent, Lent, and the Christmas and Easter seasons, is a time when the church focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus. The season celebrates the mysteries of Christвs life and death and looks forward to the salvation and eternal life that he brings. Green represents hopeвlike the hope we feel when we see the first buds in springtimeвand it is thus fitting that green is the liturgical color that marks this season. В Or, at least, thatвs the rationale the modern church gives for the rule about wearing green during Ordinary Time. In reality, however, the reason might have been much more practical. Ordinary Time is the longest liturgical season, and green plant dyes would have been one of the most widely available kinds of dyes. The color brings to mind the tender, new shoots of spring and the lush grasses and summer crops that sustained animals and people throughout the year. This leads naturally to seeing green as a sign of hope and life. In the earliest church, most priests probably wore white. The original vesture for Mass in the West was simply the formal attire of Roman gentlemen, which was white. As time went on and Christianity spread, the vestments worn by priests gradually grew more elaborate. The liturgical year developed, and colors came to be associated with different feasts and seasons.
These colors varied, however, based on culture, the availability of colored dyes, and local traditions. It wasnвt until the early 13th century that Pope Innocent III established four official liturgical colors: green, white, red, and black. Rose and violet (purple) were added in the 16th century, after the Council of Trent. These decrees affirmed colors that were already in use, and probably excluded others that regional churches or dioceses had been using. After the Second Vatican Council, these same colors were kept. В A few countries have additional approved colors due to their own ancient traditions. (Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, for example, are two churches that have their own traditions and colors. ) In todayвs church, white is worn for times of great joy, including Christmas and Easter. It is also worn for weddings, baptisms, and other special days of celebration. Red denotes the Passion of Christ, the blood of martyrs, and the fire of the Holy Spirit, and is worn during celebrations such as Pentecost or the commemoration of Christвs death on Good Friday. Violet, the color of penance and preparation, is worn during Advent and Lent. В Like much of our liturgy, the use of green to signify Ordinary Time started as tradition but has now become a rule. Today, the colors of vestments and church decorations reminds us of the passing of the liturgical year and invites us into the mystery of our faith. This article also appears in theВ В issue ofВ U. S. Catholic В (Vol. 82, No. 1, page 49). Image: Via Wikimedia Commons
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