Colors Worn By Cardinals and Bishops

A look at artwork through the centuries shows that attire for the clergy has changed greatly over the two millennia of the Church. However, the color purple is of ancient origin and has traditionally been used mostly by royalty since it was among the most difficult of colors to produce, and hence expensive and affordable only to royalty.

Within the Church, an overlay of theological or spiritual meaning is often added to practices or customs centuries after those customs arise out of convenience or common usage. For instance, it is almost certain that the use of purple attire by bishops was originally intended to show that the bishops possessed religious and spiritual authority equal to the temporal and civil authority of princes and kings. Pious commentators later came to suggest that bishops wore purple in imitation of the purple cloak placed on the shoulders of Jesus during his trial on Good Friday.

By Rev. Msgr. William J. King, Priest, Diocese of Harrisburg.

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