The term liturgy stems from Greek word (λειτουργία), “work for the people” or “public service.” In Christianity, liturgy describes traditional religious activities performed by faithful congregants during a worship service or throughout the calendar year as a communal expression of faith, repentance, service, and customs.
The sequences of prayers, responses, hymns, readings or the Eucharist are examples of liturgy during a mass that may coincide with a lectionary. The lectionary provides a three-year series (Year A, B, C) of readings for Sunday starting with the season of Advent, four weeks before Christmas Day. For each Sunday and festival, three readings and a psalm are suggested and include: a Gospel reading, an Old Testament reading, and a New Testament reading. The lectionary is a work of The Consultation on Common Texts, an ecumenical consultation of liturgical scholars and denominational representatives from the United States and Canada, who produce liturgical texts for use in common by North American Christian Churches
The liturgical calendar practiced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in distinguishes six seasons:
- Advent: preparing for Christmas, waiting, the royalty of Christ, our joyful welcome of the child of God
- Christmas: birth of Jesus Christ
- Epiphany: visit of the Three Wise Men, Christ made known to the world, ministry of Jesus Christ, ongoing growth
- Lent: preparation for Easter, Penitence, Morality, the days and events leading to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
- Easter: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, celebration of new and eternal life
- Pentecost: coming of the Holy Spirit, fire and descending flames, beginning a new life in the world. Ministry of church, ongoing growth of believers in the world.
The colors blue, white, purple, gold and green are usually displayed during a given season. The colors adorn the church and vestments to recognize certain milestones, emphasize theological themes, or convey certain sentiments.
- Blue/Purple (Advent): Is the more contemporary color increasingly used by many congregations in their observance of a new church year. Advent, a preparatory time of waiting and watching, communicates the message of hope. BLUE-the color of the sky-helps convey that powerful message. Our Christian faith rests on the hope that Christ, who came in history assuming our flesh, will also return on the last day of time from that same blue sky he ascended long ago.
- White (Christmas): Is the color of purity and completeness. The theme for the “great fifty days” of Easter is supported by the use of white. This color, used primarily during these Sundays, assists in bearing the message that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Christ’s triumph from the grave on Resurrection day is the cause for our rejoicing. His purity before his Father becomes our purity. White reinforces that message of joy.
In addition to its use during Eastertide, white is the appointed color for such festive Sundays as Christmas and its twelve days; Epiphany (Jan. 6) and the first Sunday following it, observed as the Baptism of Our Lord; the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, also known as Transfiguration Sunday; Holy Trinity Sunday; and twenty-one minor festivals and occasions listed on the church year calendar in Lutheran Service Book. In all, white serves as the best festive color for the church year.
- Green (Epiphany): By far the most common color seen during the year. Lutheran Service Book calls for its use during the seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost. The days of Epiphany may entail a total of, but not more than, eight Sundays. The season of Pentecost, on the other hand, can last from 22 to 28 Sundays. Green is the appointed color for all but a few of the Sundays during these seasons. Consequently, green may be used an average of six to eight months of any given liturgical year! Epiphany’s message of Christ’s revelation to the Gentiles along with the season’s traditional emphasis on extending Christ’s kingdom through missions, calls for the use of green-the color symbolic of growth.
- Purple/Scarlet Red/Black (Lent): like black, is a penitential color, in contrast to a festive one. It is appropriately used during Lent and, still in many parishes, during the season of Advent. The forty days of Lent, including the six Sundays that fall during this season, use this deep, rich color which has come to represent somberness and solemnity, penitence, and prayer.
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 they placed on him a “purple garment” in order to ridicule him and belittle the claim that he was a monarch.
Therefore, purple is used during this penitential season of Lent as a vivid reminder of the contempt and scorn he endured, and the subsequent sacrifice he made for our eternal salvation. Ecclesiastical purple should remind all Christians of their daily need to humbly give attention to leading a life of repentance.
- Black is seen very seldom during the year. The calendar calls for its use only twice; on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. There’s no mistaking the message that this sober color gives. Black is the absence of light. Good Friday, or Black Friday in combination with Ash Wednesday, calls for sober reflection on the cost of our redemption. Without Christ’s sacrifice on the day the sky turned dark and hid the light of the sun, there would be no bright Light of Christ to live in, nor new life in Christ to enjoy.
- White/Gold (Easter): Optional colors for Easter Sunday. It is also the suggested color for the last Sunday in the church year when that day is observed as Christ the King Sunday (LBW). Its use may not be popular yet, but its emphasis is undeniable. Gold represents value and worth. The golden festival of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the event that gives our lives meaning and worth. He is worthy of our praise as we adorn his altar with the color of splendor.
Scarlet Red is called for use during Holy Week; from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday. It is a color worth investing in because it stands in contrast to the traditional red that is used on Festival Sundays. Scarlet’s use during the somber days of Holy Week help to offer a different message.
- Green/Red (Pentecost): The Sundays following Pentecost, observed as “the time of the church,” share a somewhat similar theme as that of Epiphany. Affectionately called the season of the “green meadow,” no doubt due to the fact of green being the established color, these Sundays also emphasizes the subject of growth. Green is a neutral color, but there is nothing colorless about our need to grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ. That’s why the “green meadow” time of the church year is so lengthy. Time must be given to encourage all worshipers to maintain their faith through the constant use of God’s means of grace.
Red is a power color and is appropriate for use on Pentecost Sunday. On this day we remember the power and fire of “the Lord and Giver of Life,” who revealed himself as the promised one. The color red communicates the motif of strength-strength and power the Holy Spirit gives in order for God’s people to call on the name of Jesus Christ and share that powerful name with others.
There is no question that red is a compelling festive color. Consequently, it serves well as the traditional color for the heroic martyrs of the church. The Lutheran Service Book church year calendar provides propers for sixteen martyr festivals and recommends red as the appropriate color. Their red blood shed in defense of the Gospel offers perpetual encouragement for God’s people to be resolute in living the faith.
Additional uses of red are Reformation Sunday; Holy Cross Day (Sept. 14); on such festive occasions as dedications, anniversaries of a congregation and its physical structure; festive days celebrating the office of the public ministry, such as ordination and installation.
St. Matthews was established in 1895. We have a beautiful, traditional worship space and are located on a main thoroughfare of White Plains. We have a strong music program and greatly value our Lutheran heritage and liturgy. Our congregation is friendly and welcomes visitors. You are welcome to join us during Mass or other events to reflect, celebrate, and appreciate our common humanity and need to live by values.