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I was just reading Mark 15:17-20 (ESV) (emphasis mine):

And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Is this why purple is the color of Lent?

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It's actually kind of a contradiction. Which isn't surprising as Christ was a sign which would be contradicted (see Luke 2:34). Purple is a kingly color, which is why they put it on Jesus to mock Him. Purple is also, or has become, the penitential color for the Church, it is also the color worn and used to decorate churches during Advent.

Purple is certainly penitential in contrast to Rose, which is the color of Joy, worn on Laetare in Lent and Guadete sunday in Advent. But, the only other person to wear Purple clothes in the New Testament was the rich man (who went to Hell) in the parable of Lazarus (Luke 16:19). But his wearing purple is a sign of his wealth and vainglory.

Each of the ways the soldiers mocked Jesus have become for Christians a sign of His eternal glory.

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    it's interesting to compare the rich man in the parable of Lazarus with Christ and note that we're all like the rich man, clothed in the purple (majestic) robes of wordly splendor, but Christ, ironically the true, majestic, king, dies for us and wears in shame those purple robes (robes, signifying perhaps, our sin?) quite, quite interesting. +1 – Thomas Shields Mar 29 '12 at 12:32
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"Tyrian purple" as it is called and often referred to as "Royal purple" was often reserved for the very wealthy and royalty, essentially the 'elite' of society. The Romans placed an extremely high value on the dye as it was extracted from sea snails, therefore not easily obtained.

Christ was often referred as being "clothed in humility." He came from a very lowly background and it is quite symbolic of a peasant wearing something of kings.

While not quite pertaining to the history of purple and it's representation during Lent, you may choose to read The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-11) and The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14) in regards to the meek and lowly being exalted.

Also, to be humble is not to be self-deprecating.

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I would suggest that most of this comes from imitation of Catholic traditions. The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of symbolism, and included in that tradition is the use of vestment colors.

Liturgical colors have reference in Biblical traditions, however...the only color worn by clergy until the 4th century was white. The first mention of different colors was made by Pope Innocent III who lead the church in the late 12th century. Please see the following for more information. http://people.opposingviews.com/catholic-priests-vestments-change-different-times-7880.html

If I were looking for Biblical references for liturgical colors, I would be unable to find the use of red and green garments. Both of these colors have meaning in Catholic tradition.

  • Welcome to the site. Here's a +1 for a good, sourced answer that stays on topic. I hope to see you post again soon. – 3961 Nov 8 '14 at 17:24
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Why is purple the color of Lent?

Liturgically speaking violet is the true colour used for Lent and Advent, although many prefer use the word purple.

It is not clear why, how or when purple became a liturgical color for the liturgical season of Lent in the Catholic Church. One thing is for sure. This was not the case in the beginning. Black was the original color designated for Lent, not violet (purple).

Benedict XIV (De Sacro Sacrificio Missæ I, VIII, n. 16) says that up to the fourth century white was the only liturgical colour in use. Other colours were introduced soon afterwards. - Catholic Encyclopedia

For many centuries the West regarded purple as a color reserved for royalty or the very rich.

Purple was a status symbol. In Ancient Rome its use was limited to Emperors, and to a lesser extent, senators, so Tyrian purple also became known as Imperial Purple. - The Liturgical Colour "violaceus" in the Roman Rite.

Liturgically speaking purple (purpura)is the correct term to be use in describing the color for clothing for catholic prelates and violet (violaceus) as the color associated with Lent.

The Latin word purpura (which strictly translates as “purple”), but this is hardly ever mentioned in the Liturgical books or the works of commentators. - The Liturgical Colour "violaceus" in the Roman Rite

As time moved on other liturgical colors were added to the Church's liturgical usage.

In the twelfth century, Pope Innocent III was the first to specify the colours of the vestments that were to be used for the Roman Rite; almost certainly this reflected prevailing custom in Rome, not an invention on his part. Although a separate subject from this article, it is well to remember that it was only towards the end of the 1st Millenium that the question of vestment colour became a significant one. Black was designated for penitential and funeral liturgies, but violaceus was indicated as a substitute for black. Pope Innocent’s treatise De sacro altaris mysterio (Book I, chapter 65, which was written before his election as pope in 1198) seems to be the first indication that violaceus had come to be regarded as a penitential colour for the Roman Rite. - The Liturgical Colour violaceus in the Roman Rite

All we really know is that the color "purple" seemed to creep into the liturgy from the 12th century onwards. But why it took on this symbolic meaning for representing penance remains a mystery. Prelates still don the purple!

The word violaceus used in the ceremonial books of the Roman Rite indicates the colour purple (reddish hues) or violet (bluish hues): the Church does not define the shade violaceus as it applies to sacred vestments. But the Church does define the shade violaceus for the robes of its prelates. Both the reddish purple and the bluish “purple” are colours that have been traditionally used for sacred vestments in the Roman Rite since at least the 12th century. - The Liturgical Colour violaceus in the Roman Rite

Although somewhat mysterious as to why violet replaced black as a penitential color for Lent. One possible reason for this is that it may have come into liturgical usage due to how black fabrics faded:

Fugitive dyes are unstable. Made from pigments that are not light or color fast, they can fade even if they are well taken care of. One of the most famous examples is this black mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria on the day of her accession to the throne:

Queen Victoria’s Privy Council Dress, circa 1837

Queen Victoria’s Privy Council Dress, circa 1837

That’s a black dress?!

Well, not anymore, but it was.

Originally, this dress was a deep, shimmering black, but the fugitive dye has aged poorly. Black dyes have been historically notorious for fading, usually to this rusty brown. Some black dyes also fade to blue or even purple, depending on the dye used. - Dying Dyes: What You See Isn’t Always What Was

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As we walk with Christ during Lent, we are to meditate on the Christ's glory as well as suffering and sacrifice. each resistance to temptation is a victory, but his successes could not prevent his death on the cross and suffering prior to this. We are called to never forget this strength and the depth of.suffering Jesus experienced for our sins, earning our Grace in the eyes of God. The purple signifies Jesus' dual role as king and the son of God as well as his humble life as a carpenter, lived in poverty and service to others. During Lent we will experience mockery and misunderstanding by others, but if we.keep our eyes.on Christ and our desire to grow closer to him, our rewards will be immeasurable. Nothing we experience.on earth can compare to Christ's sacrifice, and if we always keep this in mind, we will remain grounded, humble, thankful,loving, and forgiving.

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    Sources would greatly improve this answer. – Mr. Bultitude Feb 23 '15 at 2:12

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