The use of colours to differentiate liturgical seasons became a common practice in the Western church in about the fourth century. At first, usages varied considerably but by the 12th century Pope Innocent III systematized the use of five colours: Violet, White, Black, Red and Green. The Lutheran and Anglican churches that emerged from the Reformation retained the traditional colours but they disappeared entirely (along with most other ritual) from the worship of the Reformed churches. During the 20th century, the ecumenical Liturgical Movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual—including the traditional colours of the Western church. To these have been added Blue and Gold—colours that were used in some Western rites before the 12th century.
Briefly, the colours express emotions and ideas that are associated with each of the seasons of the liturgical year. Violet is the ancient royal colour and therefore a symbol of the sovereignty of Christ. Violet is also associated with repentance from sin. White and Gold symbolize the brightness of day. Black is the traditional colour of mourning in some cultures. Red evokes the colour of blood, and therefore is the colour of martyrs and of Christ’s death on the Cross. Red also symbolizes fire, and therefore is the colour of the Holy Spirit. Green is the colour of growth. Blue is the colour of the sky and in some rites honours Mary.
Congregations in the United Church of Christ have the freedom to use any combination of colours (or no particular colours) as seems best to them. The use of traditional colours, however, connects us to the wider Body of Christ and provides worship planners with visual aids that mark the transition from one season to another. Colours can be used in altar and pulpit decorations, vestments, banners and tapestries.