According to Gilbert Cope's article in A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, general rules for liturgical colours weere not formally defined in Church of England rubric before the sixteenth centry in the reformed missal under Pius V, and even in that sequence a certain latitude was permitted. In pre-Reformation England, green and yellow were considered interchangeable, and thus either colour might be used at any of the following times: Sundays after Epiphany, Sundays after Trinity, and ordinary weekdays. Regional variations persisted; moreover, a particular church might use its "best" vestments, whatever the colour, for the major festivals.

The Reformed Churches generally ignored liturgical colour. English practice, as usual, varied, and it was not till the middle of the nineteenth century, as a result of the Oxford Movement and the Cambridge Camden (Ecclesiological) Society, that renewed attention to ceremonial meant the restoration of a sequence of liturgical colours in both dress and hangings (vestments and ornaments). Evangelical churchmen resisted this movement as "Popery"; the high-churchmen saw it as a return to the practices of the old English pre-reformation Church. As you might expect, Victorian commercialism saw the establishment of standard and "correct" colours as a manufacturing and marketing opportunity. Eventually all but the most low-church parishes had some touch of seasonal colour.

Suggested Readings

Cope, Gilbert. "Liturgical Colours" in A Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship. Ed. J. G. Davies. London: SCM Press, 1972.

Dearmer, Percy . The Ornaments of the Ministers 1908, 1920.

Hope, W. H. St. J. and E. G. C. F. Atchley, English Liturgical Colours 1918.

Legg, J. W. Notes on the History of Liturgical Colours., 1882.

[Follow for Constance J. Ostrowski's comments on liturgical symbolism in Roman Catholicism.]


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Last modified December 1995