By Paul Turner

We use candles at every liturgical service as a sign of reverence and festivity. They bring honor to God and joy to our celebration.

At Mass candles may attend the cross in the entrance procession. The servers who carry them place them on or near the altar or on a side table. Candles may number two, four or six. A seventh may be lit for Masses with the bishop. They rest in any arrangement suitable to the design of the altar and the sanctuary. They should look nice up there, but they should never obstruct our view of what is placed upon the altar or what takes place around it.

At church dedications the walls are adorned with 4 or 12 crosses, each with a holder for a candle. Lighting these candles recalls the solemnity of the church’s origins. 

Although the candle which burns by the tabernacle must consist of oil or wax, there are no restrictions about the other candles. Formerly they were pure beeswax. As the church spread to areas where that material was difficult to obtain, we lowered the content to 51 percent beeswax, but we no longer require even that. The bishops of a conference may select other materials native to their region. such candles should dignify the value of the celebration without producing an excess of smoke, illness to worshippers, or stains on the cloths. 

Originally candles proved practical: They gave light and warmth for those gathered to pray. Today we rely on electricity and gas. Still, candles have remained because they offer a natural symbol of the power of God to break darkness and dispel chill. In our homes candles have also moved from the practical to the symbolic. They cast a romantic spell: They enhance intimacy and vulnerability. We still use them when the electrical power goes out. They subtly remind us that what we call “power” still has it weakness. 

Our Church forbids electrical candles except for Masses on board ships, where regular ones may be scarce. The frail flame of the candle imitates our flickering faith, which burns in honor of God, enhances celebration, and spends itself to light the way for others.

Holy Cross Reflections are articles which were previously published in the Holy Cross bulletin.