Candles


As warm and humble living flames,
candles symbolize, accompany and extend our prayers.


Originally, candles were simply a means of illumination. In the catacombs, small oil lamps were used, which the Lord alluded to in his parable to the ten virgins, [Mt. 25:1-13] who are symbols of the watchful anticipation of the faithful. Going beyond any practical need for light, Christians have continued to use candles for symbolic purposes. When an altar has just been consecrated by anointment, it is covered with cloths, then candles are arranged around it. Almost all liturgical ceremonies make use of this warming light, which is a familiar part of celebrations (by Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants and Jews).

Light is inextricably linked with Christ, who declared: "I am the light of the world" (St. John 8:12). The Credo speaks of him as being "light from light." Christians are "children of light" (Ephesians 5:8) who no longer want to live in the shadows. When giving a lighted candle at the end of the rite of baptism, the celebrant illustrates this by saying: "Receive the light of Christ."

A blessing of candles, followed by a procession, takes place before the service on February 2nd, during the celebration of the Presentation of the Lord at the Temple, which is called Candlemas. In the Gospel reading of that day, old Simeon, in his Nunc Dirnittis, sees in the child he is holding in his arms "a light of revelation for the gentiles." (St. Luke 2:32). The best-known example of a sacred light is the Paschal Candle, a symbol of the risen Christ. The Easter Vigil, the high point of the entire liturgical year, begins by the solemn blessing of the candle. This is an adaptation of the Jewish rite which ordered the lighting of lamps on the Friday evening at the beginning of the Sabbath. It became the lucernarium (from the Latin lucerna, "lamp") of the early Church.

The celebrant engraves several symbols of Christ on the Paschal Candle: the Cross; alpha and omega, which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet; [Rv. 1:8] and finally the four digits of the number of the year. Five grains of incense are then melted into the centre and the four extremities of the cross, as reminders of the five wounds of Christ crucified: in the hands, the feet and in the side. The candle is lit from a freshly kindled light and carried into the church in procession, while the deacon proclaims three times "The light of Christ." The candle burns only during the fifty days of the Easter period but, in the hearts of the baptized, it must never be allowed to go out. During funeral ceremonies, the Paschal Candle is lit near the coffin as a sign of hope.

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