By Joan Whetzel
In Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches, the pastor or priest lights a Paschal candle during the Easter vigil. The lighting of the Paschal candle represents the church moving out of the darkness of sin and into Christ’s light. The flame’s warmth symbolizes the warmth of Christ’s love. While these are the 2 main symbols of the Paschal Candles, they are, by no means, the candle’s only symbols.
The History of the Paschal Candle
It was once considered sacrilege to light candles in a church during the day. But that all changed when, as St. Jerome pointed out, candles were always lit during the reading of the Gospels, and that the lighting of candles wasn’t meant to keep out the darkness so much as it was to light up the church with joy – especially when candles were lit during baptisms held during the Easter vigils.
The Basic Features of Church Candles
Candles used for liturgical purposes are made from beeswax, which symbolizes the supposed virginity associated of bees, which is representative of the Virgin Mary giving birth to Christ. The wick symbolizes the soul of Christ, and flam represents his Divinity, or his “True Light.” Liturgical candles are always white as a symbol of Christ’s purity, though gold and colored paint may be added to create the markings on the candle.
Bringing the New Paschal Candle into the Church
Depending on the church, the congregation will either wait in the darkened church for the Paschal candle's arrival, or will follow the lit Pascal candle into the darkened church. In some churches small tapers are distributed to parishioners to be lit by the Paschal candle as it passes. The Paschal candle is customarily placed in a prominent place during the Easter season
The Paschal Candle and the Easter Vigil
Easter Vigil services are held on Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when Christians wait and watch for Christ's return at midnight. The Paschal candle is lit outside the church by a charcoal brazier. Once inside the church it remains lit for the entire Easter season. The Anglican and Lutheran churches leave the candle lit from Easter until the day marking the Ascension 40 days later. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it remains lit for 50 days, until Pentecost.
Markings on the Paschal Candle
The Paschal candle's main marking is the cross representing the cross of Christ's crucifixion. The Greek letters---alpha and omega---are painted on either side of the cross, signifying Christ as being the "Alpha and the Omega,” the One “who is and who was and who is to come" (Revelation 1:8). Five nails with small pieces of incense are placed on the cross; one into the center of the cross and four into the four ends of the cross to embody Christ's hand, feet and side wounds. The year that the Candle is being burned is also painted on the Paschal Candle.
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