Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why Do Catholics Light Prayer Candles?

I have not been working on my blog as I had hoped the last couple of weeks, I have sick, sick, sick. I hope to never take my health for granted again!!

After the first week of lightening a candle for the Haven Fall Challenge, I started pondering the lightening of candles in general that Catholics so often do for a prayer intention. It is commonplace to see candles burning in a Catholic Church, usually before statues of saints or icons. We have a shrine in walking distance of our home that has a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Center, surrounded by hundreds of candles that people come in 24 hours a day to light and prayer for their special intentions.

I started this past week to research the mean of lighting candles in the Catholic Church. When we light our prayer candles we remember and truly live the words of our Lord, : "I am the Light of the World." When we light the candles with a prayer intention, we are not only praying , but our prayers actually become smaller symbols of the One Light of Christ. When we burn prayer candles, our prayers rise up to Heaven day and night.

According to A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, by Ann Ball, the practice of lighting candles to obtain a favor probably has its origins in the custom of burning lights at the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. The lights burned as a sign of solidarity with Christians still on earth. The candles continually burned as a silent vigil, hence they became commonly known as vigil lights.

Vigil Lights (from the Latin vigilia, which means "waiting" or "watching") are traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting. We often see in our church's or shrines a prayer candle called the votive light. Very often when those are lit, they are done when one is seeking a favor from our Lord or a particular Saint in front of whom the candle was placed.

In the New Testament God is called the Light (I Jn. 1:5), dwelling in the "inaccessible light" (I Tim. 6:16). And Our Lord Jesus Christ is described to us as "the true Light that enlightens all men" (Jn. 1:9). He called Himself, "the Light of the world" (Jn. 9:5). For this reason we profess our Savior as being "Light of Light (cf. Symbol of Faith) or, poetically, "Joyful Light."

Early Christians associated light with the sacred presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in their midst, being assured by Him: "Where two or three come together in my name, there I shall be in their midst" (Mt. 8:20). Thus during their evening gatherings, as the candles or the lamps were being lit, the Christians symbolically (mystically) welcomed the Eternal Light, Jesus into their midst with the joyous hymn, O Joyful Light (see below), hailing from the second century.

In the Byzantine Catholic Rite, during evening vespers we sing:

O Joyful Light ("Svite Tichij")

O Joyful Light! Light and Holy Glory of the Father Immortal, the heavenly, holy, the Blessed One, O Jesus Christ! Now that we have reached the setting of the sun, and see the evening light, we sing to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is fitting at all times to raise a song of praise in measured melody to you, O Son of God, the Giver of Life. Behold, the universe sings your glory.
(Anonymous, from the 2nd century)

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful post! Although my UGC Church is only 5 minutes away by car, you are so blessed to have a prayer shrine 24/7 so close to you! May God continue to bless our Eastern Rite Churches. I love that vespers hymn! It often 'sings' in my mind while I am working around the house.
    You are now included in ECBL, as well as Christ The Bridegroom's site. Thank you! Many Blessings!



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