As Catholics, we are accustomed to seeing candles in church. But do we ever think of why we have candles? There are several types of candles, and the most important are the ones by the altar. Candles in church are there to remind us of Christ, who told us that he is the Light of the World. In a dark place, we cannot see where we are going. We need light to be able to go anywhere. So without Christ and His resurrection, we would be stumbling about in the dark. We could not find our way to heaven without Christ. Thus, the candles represent Christ’s presence upon the altar.
We could then ask why we still use candles in an age of electricity. We could imagine updating the liturgy so that we put an electric lamp by the altar. For one thing, the liturgy takes us back to the days when Jesus was among us in the flesh, 2,000 years ago. As the vestments that the priest wears are designed to remind us of the clothing of the first century, so our candles harken back to the time of the Last Supper. Beyond that, there is more symbolism in the candles. An electric light looks just the same until the bulb burns out. You cannot tell by looking how much life a light bulb has. As a candle burns, on the other hand, we see it getting shorter. While Christ’s resurrection is what gives us the light, leading us to having the special Easter Candle as our most fancy candle, we also remember that He gave Himself for us on the Cross. As a candle gives light, it gives of itself. As we see it grow shorter, we know that it is “sacrificing” itself for our light. That candle is then a visual reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary in order to lead us to new life.
In addition to the candles at the altar, I would like to remember the candles in the back, near the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or by the statue of St. Anthony. We see these candles as a way of remaining in prayer. If I have some special favor that I want to bring to God, through the intercession of Mary or the saints, then I want the help of all who share our faith. There may be a case where I would want to ask everyone who comes by to pray for my special intention. It would not be practical for me to stay in the back of church throughout the entire day, just so that I could stop anyone and everyone who comes in and ask for their prayers. So I can light a candle, and the candle remains when I depart. We call those “vigil candles” because they remain to keep vigil in our place. Thus, if I can stop and say a prayer at the statue of the Blessed Mother, then I am praying for all those who have lit candles in that area. I include their prayers, and I know that those who come after will include my needs in their prayers.
When we come to church, we see candles. I hope that this reminder of the candles will help us see Christ as the Light of the World and will help us offer our prayers for one another in all our needs.