Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 2011: Liturgical Candles

Happy New Year!

Have you ever watched the acolyte lighting the candles during worship? Have you ever noticed that big red candle burning way up in the left side of the chancel (i.e. altar area)? For centuries candles have been a traditional symbol in the church. They are not just for decoration. Light is a symbol of God. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Here is a list of some liturgical candles and their meanings.

Communion Candles and Office Candles

These are the two tall candles sitting on the altar on either side of the crucifix. They are lit during communion services. The other candles are called "office lights". At the beginning of the service, the candles on the right side (facing the altar) are lit first. The candles nearest to the crucifix are lit first. They are extinguished at the end of the service in the opposite order. The imagery is of light springing forth from the altar and returning to the altar at the end of the service.

Eternal Candle

The Eternal Candle is the big red candle hanging high up on the left side of the chancel. The Eternal Candle is always lit. The new candle should be lit from the flame of the old. I've always thought of it as a symbol of the eternal presence of God. However, historically, this was the one candle burning in the church to welcome anyone who desired to receive communion on non-Sundays. (7-Eleven is not the only one open 24/7).

Advent Candles

These are the candles in the Advent Wreath hanging high on the right side of the chancel. There are five candles: three purple or blue, one rose and one white. A candle is lit for each Sunday service in Advent.
Purple or blue? Advent has blue themes. One theme is penitential. As we await the coming of Christ, we are sorry for our sinfulness. This is symbolized by the purple candles. However, a second theme is "rejoicing that the King is coming." This is symbolized by the blue candles for royalty.
The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday symbolizing "joy."
The white Christ candle, in the center of the wreath, is lit on Christmas.

Candlelight Christmas "Hand Candles"

These are the candles the congregation carries at the end of our Christmas Eve service. The light from the Paschal candle is gradually spread hand to hand, throughout the congregation, symbolizing the spread of Christ's love and the Gospel.

Christ Candle, aka Paschal Candle (not the same at the Advent Christ Candle)

This is the tall (3 foot) candle standing by itself on the left side of the altar (i.e. facing the altar). It is a symbol of our Lord's resurrection and His visible presence here on Earth. The candle is lit early Easter morning and is lit every Sunday until Ascension. The candle is marked with a cross, the current year, as well as an Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). These are symbols that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. In the center and at each end of the cross, wax nails are affixed to symbolize the five wounds of Christ.
At the end of the Good Friday Service, the Paschal Candle leaves the sanctuary. This symbolizes the death of Christ. Jesus is the light of the world. When Jesus dies, the light of the world is gone.

Baptism Candle

This is the candle we give to children being baptized. It is a symbol of the light of Christ which is now in their lives. The candle should be lit every year on the anniversary of their baptism.

Unity Candles

This is a relatively new tradition for weddings. It consists of three candles,one white candle between two tapers. At the beginning of the service the two tapers are lit, signifying the separate lives of the couple. During the service the flame of the tapers are combined and used to light the center candle. Then the tapers are blown out. This symbolizes two lives becoming one.

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