It has become a tradition for priests of the Roman Rite to wear frock of the color violet or purple during the repentance season of Lent. This was a custom that was slowly adopted, as originally priests normally wore white.
During ancient times, the color purple was associated with royalty. At the time, to make the color, “dye makers had to crack open the snail’s shell, extract a purple producing mucus and expose it to sunlight for a fixed amount of time. It would take as many as 250000, mollusks to yield just one ounce of usable dye, but the result was a vibrant and long-lasting shade of purple.” Kings Such as Roman emperors, as well as the Persian king Cyrus, chose purple as their prime color of clothing.
Reverend Fr Douglas Wako of Portal Catholic Diocese, says that according to general instruction to the Roman Missal number 345, there is a variety of colors in the sacred vestments and has its purpose to give more effective expression to the specific character of the mysteries of faith to be celebrated. He adds that purple in Roman Catholic Church is used during the Advent and Lent seasons. “purple signifies the mysteries we are celebrating as a church and during Lent, we are reflecting on issues of repentance and passion of Jesus Christ.”
The significance of purple color during Lent season
As a reminder of Jesus’ crucifixion
The rev. notes that it is remembered that during Jesus’ passion, he was dressed in a purple robe. The robe belonged to Herod and it was the most expensive color in the Roman empire. At the time, only the royals wore the color as they were the only ones who could afford the expensive color.
The gesture of dressing Jesus in a cloak of the expensive color was indicating his royal dignity. According to Mark 15:17, when Roman soldiers mocked Jesus before his crucifixion, they “clothed him in a purple cloak, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on him.” Then Pilate showed Jesus to the crowd saying, “what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of Jews?” (Mark 15;12). It is from this event that purple became linked with Jesus’ passion and death. The color reminds Christians of Jesus’ death and they see the color itself as a call to repentance for sin.
To express humility
During Lent, Christians put on purple color because it reflected the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It reflects humility, obedience to God and it originated from the Old Testament and Jewish culture.
The color purple symbolizing reconciliation
Fr Charles Oyo of Fort Portal Catholic Diocese adds that the color symbolizes a time for penance that Christians are reconciling with the Lord.
He quotes “Purple is the color of Lent and it symbolizes repentance.”
He also adds that violet dye was a valuable product that was thoroughly manufactured. And because of the tedious process to extract the color, purple cloth was expensive. Therefore, it worn by royalty and nobility, since they were the only people who could often afford it.
Royalties would dress entirely in violet to highlight their wealth and power. Consequently, dressing Christ in a purple robe was a symbolic act even though the intent was to disrespect him.