Why We Light Candles
Light is something that most people take so much for granted, that we hardly give it a second thought. The need for light is fundamental. There can be no life without light. It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that images of light and darkness recur throughout the Bible.
Almost the first thing that we read in the Old Testament (Gen.ch.1v.2) is that in the beginning "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The very first action of God in creation was to say, "'Let there be light'; and there was light and God saw that the light was good." (v3)
In the New Testament too, light is a key image. The Gospel according to St. John describes Our Lord as "the light." Not the light created by God, but the Creator Himself! Our Lord, too, uses the image of light to teach His disciples, when He says that we should shine as lights exposed on hilltops, and not hide our faith under buckets.
Altar Candles & Processional Lights
The number of candles used to decorate altars can vary, but traditionally they are in combinations of two, four and six. A useful rule of thumb is that the more candles, the more important the altar is likely to be.
Side and Lady Chapel altars normally have two, or sometimes four candles (two being lit for low mass, all four only being lit on high feast days). The High Altar would have anything up to six candles.
The more obvious symbolism is that the altar represents the throne of God, from which the light of Christ shines upon His gathered people.
You may also find it helpful to meditate upon what the number and arrangement of the candles might suggest.
Candles carried in procession are a simple, but effective way of honouring both the cross which they accompany, and also the priest as he represents the person of Christ. Their use adds both dignity and colour to the Church's worship.
Both our churches have a Pricket Stand for holding Votive or prayer candles.
These are usually found near a statue/shrine of a Saint or near to the Reserved Sacrament. Lighting a candle in prayer is a powerful symbol, full of meanings.
The lit candle reminds us of our Baptism, and the way we share in the life of Christ by sharing in the life of the Church. When we go, leaving the burning candle behind, we are reminded that our souls never leave the presence of God, in company with His Saints. Prayer is not self-centred, it is God-Centred, and an important element us prayer for other people and causes. When lighting a candle it is a very good idea to light a candle for those others you want to prayer for.
The candle will not be a substitute for the prayer but an accompaniment; a small offering which, in honouring the Saint and giving and giving glory to God, speaks both from the heart and to the heart. Lighting votive candles in church, when asking the prayers of the Saints and thereby to the greater glory of God, is growing in popularity within the Church of England. It is a devotional practice in which many millions of Christians the world over have found inspiration.
The Paschal Candle
A Paschal Candle can be found in most churches, and it is easy to identify. It is usually taller and fatter than any other candle in the church and is certain to be the only candle to be decorated either with a decal or by being painted. From Easter to Pentecost, or Whitsunday, it will be in a prominent position in the Chancel at the front of the church near the High Altar.
The Paschal Candle is named after the PASCH, the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. The candle represents Christ the light of the world. The Easter Vigil includes the first Eucharist of Easter, and is a dramatic re-presentation of the mysteries of creation and redemption. It begins in total darkness, but ends in a flood of candle-lit glory!
After Pentecost the Paschal Candle is kept near the Baptismal Font for use during Baptism.