Candles at Mass
Since I’ve had a few questions about this recently, I decided to summarize an earlier article I wrote, and share with you the chart we use in the Sacristy for the lighting of candles on the altar.
Candles are understood within the Sacred Liturgy as a symbol of the Incarnate Christ. The pillar of wax represents His body which is used up and spent as a sacrifice. The wick represents the soul of Christ hidden in the body, but on fire with the flame of Divine love. The Pascal candle, placed in the Sanctuary during the Easter Season as well as for Baptisms and funerals, has even more significance since it is further marked with the wounds of Christ and the insignia of His title, the Alpha and the Omega. We sing out “Christ our Light” when we process with that candle at the Easter Vigil.
As the Church’s most recent General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates:
“…on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a Holy day of Obligation, or if the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candlesticks with lighted candles. Likewise, on the altar or close to it, there is to be a cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified.”
We employ the principle of progressive solemnity by lighting two of the candles on Ferial days (days on which no Saint or Feast is celebrated) and Memorials of saints; four on Feast days; and six on Sundays and Solemnities. As mentioned if the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candles are used.
At the Holy Mass we are participating in both the Sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in Heaven. It is therefore worth our time and effort to adorn the altar in a more festive way on greater feasts to express our joy and the importance of the feast in the life of the Church.
Lux in tenebris lucet (The light shines in the darkness. John 1: 5)
Fr. Matthew Keller