Candles in church
I was asked how to explain to a skeptic why Catholics light candles.
Answering questions depends on the personality of the questioner, the time of day, the quality of your friendship, beverages already consumed, time and place, and many other variables too subtle to think of in the abstract and in advance. A few rejoinders spring to mind:
- "For the same reason we put candles on birthday cakes."
- "Because there was a perpetual light kept burning in the Temple."
- "Because it's fun. Candlelight is so cool!"
- "We found that the candles generate lots of revenue for the Church." :D
- "It reminds other people of my prayer request. I pray for them; they pray for me."
- "Why not?"
- "Evolution gave us great joy in watching fires burn. Lighting a candle satisfies our Neanderthal DNA. It is a tiny bonfire. It is fun to watch things burn."
- "Because it feels good."
- "Because it is more socially acceptable than scratching 'Kilroy was here' into the wall."
- "For the same reason concertgoers light matches at rock concerts, except for the alcohol, drugs, sex, and rock-'n'-roll."
- "Because it is easier for me to burn a candle for a day than to pray continually for a day."
- "Because my Mom did it."
- "Because Jewish mothers light candles to welcome Queen Sabbath. They also pour glasses of wine for themselves and for their husbands, but that's a different story."
- "I don't know. Why do you ask?"
- "Because it is something extra."
- "Because torches don't burn long enough."
- "It is an outward sign of an inward reality. The power is in my heart, not in the candle, but the candle reminds me of my own intention to pray."
- "It is a reminder of the flames of Pentecost."
- "It's like putting our own star in the skies."
- "Because there are seven lampstands in the Book of Revelation."
- "Because it makes little kids laugh."
- "It's what lovers do. Also upscale restaurants."
Oh, wait. I actually have an answer in my case. I decided years ago that I wanted to make the Easter season special. Lent works because our spiritual practices intrude on every meal we take and affect how we live each day. I wanted some kind of ritual that would be DIFFERENT from my ordinary days and that would remind me that I was in the Easter season, looking forward to Pentecost. So I gradually developed the habit of burning my own Easter candle in imitation of the Paschal candle that is lit at every Mass in the Easter season. I light the candle, say the Sequence for Pentecost, leave it burning until the right amount of wax has been consumed, then extinguish it.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
There is no magic in the candles themselves.
They are a visible sign that someone is seeking God.
What moves God's heart is the fire of our love for Him, not offering up burning wax.
- The liturgy of the Word is an integral part of sacramental celebrations. To nourish the faith of believers, the signs which accompany the Word of God should be emphasized: the book of the Word (a lectionary or a book of the Gospels), its veneration (procession, incense, candles), the place of its proclamation (lectern or ambo), its audible and intelligible reading, the minister's homily which extends its proclamation, and the responses of the assembly (acclamations, meditation psalms, litanies, and profession of faith).
- The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread) and the history of salvation (the rites of the Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ.