Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Light of Christ

photo from

It's pretty easy to forget, in our modern world of electricity and 24 hour daylight with the flip of a switch, that for many of our ancestors, the only way to have light among darkness was with a burning wick. And I think because of this, it's easy for us to miss the significance of a simple candle.

Something you'll find in all Catholic churches everywhere is candles, because they represent the light of Christ.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, "for mystical reasons the Church prescribes that the candles used at Mass and at other liturgical functions be made of beeswax. The pure wax extracted by bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother, the wick signifies the soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity."

Candles are such an important symbol of Christ that they are required at all masses.

One very special candle that plays an important role in the Easter Vigil is the Paschal Candle. This is typically a very large candle, which is lit from the new fire (usually a bonfire outside) that is started and blessed. The Catholic Encylopedia explains, "the five grains of incense set cross-wise in the candle recall the sacred wounds retained in Christ's glorified body and the lighting of the candle with new fire itself serves as a lively image of the resurrection."

Once the Paschal Candle is lit, it is processed into the church, often where the people are waiting with small, individual candles of their own. Three times during the procession, the candle is lifted and the words, Christ our light (Lumen Christi) are sung. The people respond Thanks be to God (Deo gratias). From this one large candle, all the candles are lit, passing from person to person. It is a beautiful visual image of how we can share the light of Christ in the world, simply from one person to the next. Soon, a darkened church is filled with glowing light, all from One Source.

The first minute or so of this video shows this in action:

This is one of my favorite parts of any liturgy year round!

There is really so much more to be said about the beautiful symbolism of candles and their function in the Church, but I'll stop there for now. All this "Christ our light" imagery probably doesn't make quite the impact on us it did in ages past. Sometimes it takes a power outage for us to remember how amazing, how comforting, what a relief it is when a single candle lights up a darkened room. With that image in mind, I'll end this post with some related scripture.

For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness. Ps. 18:28

0 send out Thy light and Thy truth: let them lead me. Ps. 43:3

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. Ps. 119:105

I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me, should not abide in darkness. John 12:46

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Update: Look what I found after I made this post! Here's an episode of That Catholic Show called Candles and Light. :-)

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