Walk into any Catholic Church and you will see candles everywhere. On the altar, in front of icons, close to the Tabernacle. We see them in Advent wreaths and at Baptisms. What is the meaning behind all of these candles? Let’s find out.
Light of the World
From the beginning of time, literally, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Unfortunately, we also live in a world filled with darkness and candle light has been used symbolically as a light that cuts through the darkness.
Fun Fact: Did you know the furthest you can see a single candle flame in the dark is 2.76 kilometers? That’s 1.71 miles!! Check out the info here.
Color and substance
The candles we use during the liturgy are white (bleached) beeswax. The color is white to symbolize purity and virginity. The candles are made of beeswax to symbolize how the worker bees are the ones who go out and bring back the nectar that feeds the hive and creates the wax and the queen and drone bees are the ones who reproduce. It is St. Jerome who proposed the idea of the worker bees that symbolize Mary giving flesh to Christ and the wick is like the soul of Jesus that burns for us.
The most prominent candle in the Church, this is a thick, tall candle with a cross of five points and often decorated with other symbols and the year. This candle is blessed and lighted first during the Holy Saturday celebration and then used throughout the year during the Easter Mass and Baptisms. The smaller candles used at baptism are lit off of this Paschal candle as a symbol of how sharing of light doesn’t diminish the light but creates more and brighter light. The light also removes the darkness of sin and death.
Candles at Mass
At each Mass, it is prescribed to have at least two lit candles on each side of the Altar. These are to represent Jesus. Candles can also be seen during the procession and recession at the beginning and end of the Mass, and lit near the lectern at the reading of the Gospel. There also can be “celebration lights” where candles are lit throughout the Church during a Holy Day Mass such as Easter or Christmas and other feast days. Each flame can be thought of countless prayers of the faithful and the burning flame of the divine.
This is a special set of candles typically placed upon each side of the Altar with the Monstrance and Blessed Sacrament is to be adored during Eucharistic Adoration. This is to, again, bring special attention to the Blessed Sacrament and show the brightness of Christ before us.
This is a special candle which truly represents the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When walking into a Church, find this candle in a red glass to find the Tabernacle. This is to follow what was prescribed in the Old Testament where there was to be a lamp to be lit before the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Tabernacle is the new Ark keeping the Blessed Sacrament from the Mass where Jesus dwells.
These are the groups of candles are placed before Mary or other saint statues or icons to be lit by the faithful to raise our prayers to God. We believe that as the candle burn, our prayers continue to burn in adoration and petition. These candles can also be found in homes in prayer corners or lit during Bible study. It is a way to have the light of Christ near us as we pray or read.
These candles are a special set of colors and number to light during the four Sundays as we get closer to the Christmas celebration on December 25th. The first two weeks of Advent, the purple candles are lit as a symbol of prayer, penance and sacrifice. The rose candle is lit the third week to symbolize the joy of the coming Messiah. As each candle is lit each week, the wreath grows brighter, just as the light of Christ grows brighter in our hearts as we grow closer to him. Some advent candles also have a white center candle to be lit on and after Christmas.
So, light a candle before prayer at home, find all the candles lit during Mass and light a votive candle before Mary to send our prayers to heaven. It is the light that dispels the darkness in our hearts and lives. He is the Light of the World to takes away sin. It is this light that can start a fire for God and what is right and just in this world. Use the flame of the Holy Spirit to guide the us through the narrow path so that we don’t stumble (as much) as we walk in the way to the Lord.