Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Paschal Candle - when should you use it?

Now, for those of you who wonder what on earth I'm on about this is a very special candle what we have in our church buildings. It's large and it's upfront because we get a new candle every year and to make the point it usually has the date on it. The new candle appears on Easter Sunday and so this year's candle looks a bit like the candle on the right:

Now this candle represents the light of Jesus, the Christ, and we light it during the services of Easter (or Paschaltide - paschal  meaning Passover which is, of course, Easter for the Last Supper was the Passover meal) and when we do baptism (some high church types might also light it at the funeral service where the light of Christ and the resurrection have a meaning too!).

It should be found by the font as that's the 'Go' of the Monopoly board that is the Christian faith in that it is the start point of our faith journey and it is lit because the third of the three elements of baptism

Chrism - anointing with oil,
Baptism - the wet bit, and
Light - the candle bit where the candle is given to the baptised person (or someone standing for them) to symbolise passing from darkness into light of Christ.

It's simple really - we light it during Paschaltide (Easter) and during the baptism (and if it's your flavour - funerals) and that's basically it. It represents the light of Christ and the lighting of the baptismal candle from it is a nice bit of symbolism - especially as all baptismal candles are lit from the same source and so it speaks of unity and oneness in Jesus, the Christ. To quote the Common Worship Baptismal service:

'God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and has given us a place with the saints in light. 
You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father. 

Go in the light and peace of Christ.
Thanks be to God.'

Simple innit?

Well it should be but I find a number of churches where the blessed Paschal candle finds itself placed in front of the pulpit (for reasons I have no idea of other than the someone is being liturgically dim!) or in the sanctuary (because it's 'special!') and one place I know enjoys having it lit in front of, and in the middle of the table (AKA 'the altar') on it's blinking great stand when it's a festival, Saint's day or some other occasion because (yeah, you've got it) "It's special!

Now I'm writing this in response to a question from someone who thought they were doing something 'special' when they lit the candle - because that was what they thought it meant, "Look everyone, this is a special service because I've lit the great big candle up the front/back/in front of the pulpit/by the font!' They asked me what the candle meant and so I have written this brief explanation in the hope it help them (and others) with regard to the liturgical use of the thing.

I await their response in eager anticipation because it's an area many of us are (or have been) confused by (I know, I was because I was taught by someone equally confused by it all too) and yet, when the right meaning is understood it's use becomes even more meaningful - or so I reckons.



SacriSTAN said...

I'm going to have to show this to my Priest because she lights it at any service that's not ordinary. When we asked we were told it's because it shows the service is special.

Oh dear. One of you has to be wrong here I guess.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I think what I've written is right but please don't use me to start war, that wasn't the idea behind writing. I'm merely trying to pass on what I've learned and help someone who was struggling over my surprise.

Pax (an important word and state of mind)


Anonymous said...

Why has no one ever explained this to me before?

I never realised what it meant!!!!

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

I am beginning to think that the Paschal candle is up there as one of the misunderstood elements :-)

Inch by inch we make the journey into understanding - guess this is merely another step in our journey.

Thanks for comments,

HG said...

A handy blog.

My church background doesn't have such things, so outside the Easter 'season' I've happily allowed the candle to lurk where the congregation have moved it; in front of the pulpit in one church, in the vestry in another, and behind the font in the third church. It has never occurred to me to ask why (nor has it bothered me). I think I may shift a few tall candlesticks in the next week or so.

Thank you

AL said...

According to this High-Church-Type, you are absolutely right Vic. I remember at West Brom they used to light it for everything there and it was by the font. Mind you, the font was in the wrong place.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Was touched by an email from fellow dogcollar who says that they inherited the tradition of lighting it at 'special' services and, armed with a copy of the blog, this will be raised at their next PCC with a view to ending the practice.

Some really kind words (for which I thank you) and some real need for prayer for a cleric in a tough place.

This blog is a privileged place to be - thank you for the encouragement.


Bob said...

I, of low church, non-conformist background had never really understood the use of candles, and their symbolic meanings.
A thought just ran through my mind - we rarely use candles, but we do "proper" baptisms, and at them we pray that Christ will guide the person being baptised, so why don't we light a candle to underline that point?
I'll have to think this trough before talking it through with my "vicar man"

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

'Proper' baptisms - now that contentious for I find many who do folk baptisms, others who do solid baptisms, others still who (rebaptising) do invalid baptisms and then there's what I do too :-)

Thanks for comments,


N said...

Just seen this on the diocesan worship page. Seems I might have the way I use our candle a bit wrong.

Thank You