Next Sunday the congregation sees a color the Church rarely uses, and one quite different from the violet of Lent. The priest will lead the procession of palms and celebrate Mass wearing red vestments. This red will look toward the red vestments that will be worn on Good Friday.
Many Catholics notice the various colors used in church throughout the year and have perhaps a vague idea of the reason for the changes. Some people do not notice anything. The colors, however, contain deep symbolic meanings that reflect and reinforce the meaning of the various seasons of the Church’s year of worship.
The red color worn on Palm Sunday and Good Friday has a particular meaning, which derives from the giving of one’s blood in love and loyalty. The red recalls the death of Jesus, and the significance of his total giving of himself in service to the Kingdom. We readily call those people heroes who die in the line of service, even if unwillingly. In our Catholic reflection, we celebrate moments when the dying was, in its deepest sense, willing: the deaths of martyrs.
Red is worn in memory of death of Jesus and the deaths of the martyrs who have died for him in testimony to the faith. From the very beginning of the Christian message, resistance to the Word brought violence and hatred. Like Jesus, his followers had a choice: whether to continue with deep loyalty to what seemed absolutely important to them, or whether to hide, escape, give up.
The red of these feasts stands in stark contrast to the other colors: white (worn on big feasts and during the major seasons of Christmas and Easter), violet (worn in the seasons of preparation, like Advent, or penance, like Lent), and green (worn the rest of the year, showing the growth of our daily Christian life).
Red is stunning and shocking. Just like the Passion story we will hear on Sunday.
What is your favorite liturgical color? Or the color you notice the most?
Read at least some of the story of the Passion according to St. Luke (22:14-23:56). Try to engage with the challenge that the death of Jesus Christ presents to you.
Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Your face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope, and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds, pondering over them within me, and calling to mind the words which, long ago, David the prophet said of You, my Jesus: “They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones.” (Prayer before the Crucifix)