Why Do Catholics Light Candles in Church?

Written by misty s. bledsoe
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Why Do Catholics Light Candles in Church?
Catholics light candles for many reasons. (Lighted candles. Glowing candles image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com)

Catholics light candles in church as a physical reminder of certain symbolisms found in scripture. Candles are lit for different reasons for both personal and a congregational levels. Candles of various types are lit during Mass, for personal reflection and during prayer times. The Catholic Church has a long history of lighting candles during religious services and ceremonies.

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Symbolism

The flame of the candle represents light and scriptural references to Christ being the "Light of the world..." Flame signifies warmth and cleansing in references to Christ being a comforter and reminding church members of the belief that one day all works done by an individual will be judged and sifted by fire. The flame is also a reminder of a scripture "Your word is like fire shut up in my bones," found in the book of Jeremiah.

Reflection

Catholics lighting or gazing upon a candle often view the wax of the candle representing the body of Christ with the wick representing the belief that spirit of Christ is in each Catholic believer. Sometimes the Catholic believer thinks of the soul both of the believer and of Christ when looking upon a candle flame. Catholics believe that by lighting candles during prayer, the prayer is symbolically carried up to heaven where God waits to hear the prayer. The lighted candles are confirmation of specific vows or intentions. Lighting of the candles can also take place during short visits to the church not during Mass.

Types

The candles vary in size and the material from which they are made. Candles vary from small party teacup candles to tall candles held in glass containers with pictures on the outsides. Colour can vary by season. For example, red candles can be lit during one church holiday and yellow beeswax candles during another. Votive candles appear in one part of the church where services or Mass takes place. Congregants typically light them before or after a Mass signifying personal prayers that are made for others or situations in the person's life.

Waiting

There is always at least one candle burning in the sanctuary, usually held near the altar or hung above it that stays lit all the time, day and night. It is to signify the Catholic belief that God is always present. Catholics also keep it lit at all times as to signify the belief of always waiting and watching for Christ's second coming. When the candle needs replacing, the flame from the candle carries to the new unlit candle by placing the new candlewick to the flame of the currently burning candle.

History

Candles being lit within the Catholic Church date to the early centuries and evidences can be found that candles made of beeswax were used during Mass. Candles were burnt in memory of those that died, especially if the person was considered a martyr for the Catholic faith.

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