Purple for Lent

For the first millennium, little concentration was paid to creating fixed cycles of colors for the vestments and textiles that were related to particular seasons of the church year. Through the Middle Ages, most churches in Europe began developing and sharing traditions that associated certain days with certain colors. In 1570, when Roman authorities issued universal rules, these patterns differed from region to region and from parish to parish.

Today liturgical color continues to harmonize the message of the seasons and special days during the church year. Color allows us to see the Light of Life, Jesus Christ. The changing hues emphasize a specific "colorful" chapter in the life of our Lord and his church. We live this rhythm annually by the church calendar.

Frequent instruction about the church year and its corresponding colors must go hand in hand with its weekly use. For example, when thinking about the purples of Lent we are informed to know that violet or purple was a very cherished and expensive color in the world Jesus lived. The dye used to make the color was painstakingly acquired by massaging the neck of a Mediterranean shell fish that secreted a special fluid. It was therefore afforded only by the rich and worn most exclusively by the royalty.

Jesus, the king of the Jews, wore a purple robe only once. As the soldiers mocked and tormented him, the Scriptures record that they placed on him a "purple garment" in order to ridicule him and belittle the claim that he was a king.

Therefore, purple is used during this penitential season of Lent as a vivid reminder of the disrespect and ridicule he endured, and the subsequent sacrifice he made for our salvation. During Lent the purple of stoles, worship banners and other paraments should remind all Christians of their daily need to humbly give attention to leading a life of repentance.