Lighting up a candle in church is a tangible sign of faith. From the baptism candles to votive candles, light as a symbol of love towards God.
We already talked about the importance that light has in the Christian religion sphere; furthermore, lit candles in a church are an important expression of light as manifestation of God’s love. Paschal candles, baptism candles, the candle held in the spouses’ hands during a wedding, the candles burning around a deceased’s coffin are just a few examples of the use of liturgical candles during religious celebrations.
Light as manifestation of God then, as His first manifestation since that is the first thing He created in his endless benevolence and wisdom, and with it, He made all the Creation visible. Light as symbol of Christ, who said about himself: “I am the true light”, and that for us all embodies the Light of God that brightens the world, that defies death and forces darkness to withdraw. During Baptism, the sacrament that sanctions the entrance of the new Christian into his religious life, the father or Godfather light up the Baptism candle, using the flame of the paschal candle burning on the Baptism font or altar for the occasion. That way, the child will became a son of the light, destined with his life, his actions, his faith, to feed that fire of love lit to greet his rebirth. The Paschal candle on the other side, recalls Resurrection, the new life beginning with the loss of sins, thanks to the sacrifice Jesus made for us all.
But there is also a more intimate dimension, tied to the practice of lighting up a candle in church, something that concerns every devotee and his silent dialog with God. A lit candle becomes the symbol of divine fire burning inside all of us, the expression of a flaming passion that warms us and makes us part of that Light that Jesus symbolizes, but that all Christians are part of. So, every time we buy votive candles, every time we stop to light up a candle for the Virgin Mary while going to church or to a Chapel of a Saint we feel close to, we perform an act of love towards God, Jesus and his Holy Mother. Such love, made of the vibrating fire of that small flame, but most of all made of the devotion permeating us and of the prayer we whisper while doing that, acquires an immense symbolic value. Of course, it’s not only lighting up the candle, or grabbing one of the best spots in the church sconce, maybe putting someone else’s candle out to get a privileged position! If we do that thinking about something else, with our mind wandering on what we have to do outside the church, our commitments, our thoughts, our worries, we might as well not do that. It is not one more lit flame that will make God satisfied or pleased. He created light, he surely won’t need our candle!
All lies in the spirit we have while doing this act of devotion and faith, the meaning we give to it from the moment we buy the candle to the moment we light it up, until the moment we put it on its support. Exactly for that reason, the use of electric candles in church takes nothing away from the solemnity and sacredness of our sacrifice. Aesthetically speaking, electric candles can look a bit less evocative, but have many pros in terms of safety and cleanliness, and God appreciates them just as much as traditional candles. The same can be said for liquid wax candles, rechargeable and to some extent even safer. For those reasons, there is no need to pay too much to buy huge or extremely decorated candles. A candle as big as the Baptism candle will not grant us a bigger grace, and it will even be hard to place.
But there is more. Lighting up a candle in church, or holding one during a procession or a community ritual, has a deep unifying purpose. In such occasions, our love becomes unanimous, like a hymn sung by many joyful voices altogether. It is not just us, nor our swaying flame, but we become part of a union made of love and warmth, many fragments of light warming up in the passion of our faith, in the endlessly benevolent and shiny look of God.
More, the candle symbolizes the light of knowledge, which can guide us through the darkness. A knowledge that lies only in the word of God, the guide and light in the path of those who believe and trust Him. Ignorance and incapability to welcome this awareness doom souls to darkness and death, in which they can only wander without hope.
The candle is therefore a symbol, a mean to express our love and our devotion. It is not the purpose. It joins the life of each devotee even outside the liturgical celebration, shows the intention of prayer to Jesus, Virgin Mary, the Saints, and we can say that lighting up a candle extends the prayer, and amplifies it! It can also be a request for help, a silent plea we try to draw the attention of Someone on higher grounds with, who can help us with an encouragement or a blessing. In just one word, lighting up a candle is a tangible sign of faith, especially if it comes with an offer, which, even small, shows a personal sacrifice that only the receiver can appreciate.
There are also holidays tied to candles. If we think about Judaism, candles are lit on Friday night to celebrate the beginning of the Shabbat, or the Holiday of Hanukkah, the Holiday of Lights, when every night for eight consecutive days a candle is lit to commemorate the consecration of a new altar in the Temple of Jerusalem. In Catholic religion, we can consider Candlemas as the “holiday of candles”. It falls forty days after Christmas and recalls the presentation of Baby Jesus to the temple. It is an occasion for celebrations during which, among other things, many candles are blessed, and are later lit up to celebrate Jesus as bringer of Light, but also to celebrate the end of winter, because according to ancient farming traditions, from that moment on spring will take over.
Where can you buy votive candles for church?
You can easily find them in religious articles shops, in small shops close to churches or in baptisteries. In the last few years, the online sale of candles has become popular, and there are many e-commerce websites with a wide variety of candles of any kind: simple candles for church, Paschal candles, and even Advent candles, that have to be lit up when approaching Christmas.