Liturgical Environment

Let There Be Light

Lit by candle

In a recent class I was struck by the following statement: “Symbols, far from being dead or empty ‘stand-ins’ for something other than themselves, are perceptible realities that mediate transcendent reality.” The first symbol that came to mind was that of a candle.

God’s first command, in just the third verse of Genesis, is “Let there be light” -- so it’s not surprising that a candle represents creation.

Candles also represent the presence of Christ. It was Jesus himself who proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” A lit baptismal candle tells the new Christian that they too are to become a light for the world. Jesus says to "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

At the Easter Vigil the dramatic Service of Light, or Lucernarium, blesses the fire from which the Paschal candle will be lit, dispelling darkness. The Paschal candle will illuminate all liturgical services during the next fifty days that are the Easter season.

The act of lighting a votive candle in front of an altar or religious statue expresses one’s desire to follow Jesus’ example as light of the world -- to be a child of the light, a child of God. Another candle can be found near the tabernacle to indicate the presence of Christ within it. The four Advent candles remind us of the coming Messiah.

An ancient Jewish custom is to light a candle that lasts 24 hours to mark the anniversary of a loved one’s death. We have a similar custom here at the monastery when a sister dies: A candle burns in her memory for thirty days, recognizing the earthly life she shared with us in community until her passing into life eternal.

Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God – Rule of Benedict 43:3

References:
Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel by Sandra M Schneiders, 1999, Crossroad, 4th edition, page 202
Genesis 1:3
John 8:12
Matthew 5:16