The Paschal Candle

Sister Susan pouring Paschal Candle

Have you ever wondered about the three-foot-tall, white candle you sometimes see in the monastery chapel? Or in your parish church? It is called the Paschal Candle because, as Sister Mary Ellen Plumb explains, “it represents the ‘Pasch’ or light of Christ in the world.” During the Easter Vigil, on Holy Saturday night, a small fire is lit in a special stand that has been placed at one end of the darkened chapel. This “new fire” is blessed by the prioress and celebrant and then the Paschal Candle is lit for the first time. The single flame from the Paschal Candle is then shared throughout the chapel via tapers that each person is holding. “This ritual is powerful because the lighting of the Paschal candle claims our commitment to the belief that Christ is the Light of the World who empowers our own journey from darkness to light by faith. It is a symbol as well that we have a responsibility to be the light of Christ for others,” said Sister Mary Ellen.

At Mount St. Benedict, a new Paschal Candle is made every year by Sister Susan Freitag. She’s been making the monastery’s Paschal Candle since 1984. “I started making candles over 50 years ago and then I began making this special candle when I joined the community,” explained Sister Susan. She melts the remaining Paschal Candles from previous years with other recycled beeswax candles she collects throughout the year to make the new candle.

To create such a large candle, Sister Susan uses a three-foot length of three-inch diameter PVC pipe for the mold. A wooden plug, made specifically to fit the pipe, with a hole for the long wick, is inserted in the top of the candle mold. The candle mold is inverted, so the top of the candle is now at the bottom, supported in a bucket of sand with bricks stacked next to the pipe for added stability. Now the mold is ready for the wax to be poured. “All candles are poured upside down,” Sister Susan says.

After the wax from Sister Susan’s first pour hardens, she invites other sisters to pour some wax into the mold. “I do this because I want others to feel like they are a part of the candle’s creation and then the candle is truly our community candle,” she explains. It takes at least three days to make the candle, pouring wax a little at a time.

There are specific times during the year when the Paschal candle is burned in the chapel. After its first lighting at the Easter Vigil, it is used during the Easter season until Pentecost Sunday. The candle is also used throughout the year for other special ceremonies like perpetual profession, jubilee celebrations, the installation of a new prioress, and funerals.

Sister Stephanie Schmidt, Prioress, and Fr. Bob Brugger, bless the new fire at the Easter Vigil..
Sister Stephanie Schmidt, Prioress, and Fr. Bob Brugger, bless the new fire at the Easter Vigil.
From the new fire, the Paschal Candle is lit for the first time.
From the new fire, the Paschal Candle is lit for the first time.
The single flame from the new fire is spread throughout the dark chapel.
The single flame from the new fire is spread throughout the dark chapel.
Liturgical movement is interspersed with the readings.
Liturgical movement is interspersed with the readings.
After the liturgy concludes, the resurrection is celebrated with dancing around the Paschal Candle.
After the liturgy concludes, the resurrection is celebrated with dancing around the Paschal Candle.