De Colores (made of colors)

Landscape with Noah Offering a Sacrifice of Gratitude; Joseph Anton Koch, 1803

An immediately recognizable element in divine worship is the use of differing colors. From vestments to altar cloths, the Liturgy uses color to reflect God’s glory and our own human disposi­tions.

The very first thing God created was light. The light spectrum able to be seen consists of seven basic colors further divisible into thou­sands of shades. In a way, each color reflects the almighty’s power to create and sustain the multi-faceted universe in seven intervals.

After Noah’s flood, the rainbow was revealed as a reminder that clouds would never again destroy all mortal beings. Both Ezekiel and St. John see rainbows surrounding God’s throne in their visions of heaven.

The meld­ing of rich colors, not easily ob­tained in the biblical mi­lieu, showed the power of the almighty God. In fact, empirical science now says there are more colors in a single rainbow than there are stars in the sky!

All 100 million discernible rain­bow colors are variants of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet, although Isaac Newton added or­ange and indigo as bridges between red-yellow and blue-violet. Each of these colors have meaning in the Scriptures.

Red is associated with life-blood in Genesis and Jesus’ New Cov­enant in Matthew while yellow, or gold symbolizes what is most pre­cious and strong. From Genesis to Luke, green means life and eternity whereas blue stipulates wealth and Heaven itself.

Violet was extracted from a rare shellfish and so it became a symbol of royalty in the Book of Judges. White, as a combination of all colors in the light spectrum, was equated with purity, joy and glory.

It is thought that for the first cen­turies white and gold were the only liturgical colors used. What bet­ter colors to make present the purity and glory of the precious King of Kings!

Yet, since the rainbow multiplic­ity of colors was as­sociated with God’s might and dwelling place, other hues were inserted into Christian worship as believers celebrate God’s favor in Christ and His power to bring life from death actualized in bread and wine.

Liturgically, red took the mean­ing of Christ’s burning charity and the generosity of the martyrs who died like Him. Green reflected eternal life in Christ.

Violet showed Christ as Universal King and the disciple’s imitation of His self-deni­al at specific times. Black was used for funerals because of its Biblical association with mourning and blue was used in some places for Mary and/or Ad­vent, by whom and when the wealth of heaven came to earth.

Rose became employable at the mid-point of Advent and Lent. It showed how the heavenly light of the Nativity and the resurrection begins to dawn in the midst of self-denial.

All of these colors, even black, may still be used in the Liturgy today.

Culturally, colored ribbons and bracelets are used to raise aware­ness for troops, those suffering from illnesses and even political causes. Liturgically, colors are used to elicit awareness of the almighty God, who continues to favor creation with His saving power.