Each liturgical color emphasizes a different aspect of death.
When conducting a Catholic funeral, the priest has three options regarding the color of vestments he wears. This is stated clearly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
346. Besides the color violet, the colors white or black may be used at funeral services and at other Offices and Masses for the Dead in the Dioceses of the United States of America.
Each color has its own specific meaning associated with the sacred funeral rite.
The color violet is most often associated with Lent and Advent. The reason it is worn at funerals is because of its symbolic meaning of penance and mourning. A funeral is a time when the faithful are called to pray and do penance for the departed soul, and the color violet reminds them of that spiritual aspect.
Usually worn on occasions of joy in the Church’s liturgical year, white transmits a more hopeful character at funerals. It recalls the hope of eternal life and celebrates the Christian Baptism that the deceased received during his/her life. White is also connected to Jesus’ victory at Easter, when he defeated death and opened the gates of heavenly glory. In Asian cultures, white is the traditional color of mourning, so Asian-American Catholics may request white vestments for this reason.
More commonly seen before the reforms of Vatican II, black is still a valid option for funerals and is worn by some priests. Black has been associated with mourning since ancient Rome and traditionally symbolizes death. It is a color that symbolizes darkness and reflects the sadness of death. The color also emphasizes the fact that the deceased is in need of prayers and may not be in the beatific vision of heaven, but in the purifying abode of purgatory.
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