What Do All of These Candles We Use in Church Signify?

Since the earliest days of the Christian Church, candles have been an important element in our worship. They have been used not only to provide light so that worshippers can see, but they have also carried a significance that goes far beyond the practical need of adequate lighting. Candles have most commonly been used in the Church to represent the way in which our Lord Jesus Christ, being the Light of the World, dispels the darkness of our human existence.

 A few important candles and their significance:

  • Altar Candles: These candles signify the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ as he comes to us in the Holy Communion.
  • Candles in the Candelabras: These candles lighted in addition to the altar candles, present a festive character that enlivens our chancel as we receive the Blessed Sacrament.
  • The Sanctuary Lamp: This candle, which is traditionally contained in a red globe, signifies the presence of the Reserved Sacrament (the consecrated bread and wine that remains after the Holy Communion services have ended). The elements of the Reserved Sacrament are then taken and distributed to members who are sick or unable to attend worship. On Good Friday, the only day of the year when the Church does not celebrate Holy Communion, it is appropriate to commune those who desire it from the Reserved Sacrament.
  • The Paschal Candle: This candle is used to represent the Paschal Mystery in which our Lord Jesus “passed” from death to new life in the Resurrection. Thus, we light it at the start of the Easter Vigil and it remains lit throughout the fifty days of Easter. You may remember that last year on the Day of Pentecost (the Fiftieth Day), after I read the Gospel lesson, one of the acolytes extinguished the candle. It is then lighted only when we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Baptism or gather for a funeral.
  • The Christ Candle: This is the single white candle that is set in the center of the Advent Wreath. This candle represents our Lord Jesus as Emmanuel or “God with us.” Because it does not serve the same purpose as the Paschal Candle, a different white candle is used.
  • The Lucernarium: This candle is lighted whenever we pray the service of Vespers (Evening Prayer or Eventide). It serves as a focal point in our worship, as it provides visual expression to our understanding of our Lord Jesus as “the Light of the World.”
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