More and more parishioners here at St. Joseph’s have expanded their devotional practices during these days when attending Holy Mass filled with worshippers on the weekends is not possible for them. Quite often on weekdays, I see parishioners visiting the church during quiet times and lighting votive candles before the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. For many, it is a safe and solemn time for personal prayer.
Like many liturgical practices, candle lighting began as a practical activity. It was how people turned the lights on before electricity. Early Christians illuminated the catacombs with candles. Candles also had symbolic significance. They were placed on martyrs’ graves or near saints’ images to testify that the light these holy ones bear still shines in eternity. A perpetual light at the tabernacle acknowledges the constancy of the Real Presence, Christ, the Light of the World, with us always. Votive lights burning before statues represent devotion, intercession, and the prolongation of our prayer before God and His saints.
After electricity became standard, candlelight remained a fixture in the liturgical and devotional practice of the faithful. The premiere candle in any church is also the largest: the paschal candle, blessed and lit from the new fire each year at the Easter Vigil. The paschal candle represents the light of Christ illuminating the hearts of the baptized faithful. As the paschal candle is carried forward, the phrase “The Light of Christ” is chanted three times, with the assembly’s reply “Thanks be to God.” Individual candles dispersed through the assembly are lit from the paschal candle to testify that all share in the divine light. At the celebration of every baptism, a candle is given to each baptismal candidate to acknowledge the light of Christ within them.
Although lighting votive candles is a pietistic and worthy practice at any time of the year, Holy Week and the Easter Season are especially appropriate intervals for engaging this time-honored practice of the Catholic Church.
Wishing you all the blessings of Holy Week,
Fr. John Mahoney