Google's Most-Searched Questions
Why do Catholics Light Candles?
Hey! I’m Patrick Ginty, and welcome again to Catholic NC TV. This is where we discuss all things Catholic, and all things Catholic North Carolina. We’re gonna look at, once again, our Google’s Most Searched Questions: Catholic Edition. This is number five on the list; pretty high up on the list for what, to me, is a very minuscule question. But it is, ‘Why do Catholics light candles?’ So we’re gonna get into that.
First of all, the one thing you have to understand is, lighting a candle is not worship. Some people look at this as like, the ‘smoking gun’ that proves that Catholics ‘worship idols’ and that they have ‘false gods’ and everything else, and therefore Catholics, you know, are ‘out to lunch’, and we don’t have to pay them any attention. But as Catholics, we don’t see it as worship. We have our worship, it’s the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where we offer up the one sacrifice of Jesus to the Father in heaven. That’s our worship. Everything else is just peripheral, specifically candles.
One of the main reasons why we light candles is simply this: we’re an old Church. I mean, the Catholic Church has been around for 2,000 years! We’ve been lighting candles for a really long time! And it’s been passed down to us. We have records that, in the catacombs, people would light candles in front of the tombs of the martyrs and the saints as a way of honoring them and and remembering them, and also as a symbol of prayer, which we’re gonna get into that in a second.
One thing I came across in my research is that, even into the Middle Ages, in the fourth and fifth century, lighting candles was a really big deal! One cool thing that I found was that, in the Middle Ages, around the year 500 or 600 A.D., people would actually get candles that were as tall as they were, and they would light them as a form of prayer! And I just think that’s really cool, and we should start doing that again. Also, just think about it: electricity has only been around for, not that long! Candles weren’t just necessary in churches, they were necessary everywhere! And that’s why, I think, we don’t understand candles as much as as we should, because we have electricity, we just turn on the lights, and candles really don’t mean anything to us anymore.
On a more theological level, again, it’s not a main aspect of our faith, but in the Gospel of John, one of the main themes is Jesus calling himself “The Light”. Constantly, throughout this gospel, Jesus Christ is referring to himself as The Light, that when we walk with Christ, we don’t walk in darkness, because we have the Light of Life. Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ He is the Light of the world.
When we light a candle, it’s really a representative of Christ’s presence among us. We have his presence in the Eucharist, but the presence of Christ in the light is special to Catholics. On the Easter Vigil, which is the night before Easter, the whole Mass begins with lighting a fire, and then we have the Paschal candle, which is the big, big candle (I think that even goes back to the Middle Ages, the big candle thing; I’ll think about that some more). But we light that big candle, and we walk into a dark church, and the deacon sings ‘Christ our Light’. So again, the candle, the light, Jesus Christ, it’s a symbol of Him and His presence among us.
And the last thing is, a lot of times you’ll see candles, burning before an image either of a saint, or of Jesus, or of Mary, and really the candle is there to represent our prayer. The candle is really meant to accompany a prayer — you don’t just light the candle and say, ‘Alright, I’ve lit a candle, I don’t have to pray for this person anymore.’ No! You light the candle and it represents the fact that that intention you have is constantly before God. Even though we leave the church and we go along with the rest of our life, that candle is there. It represents the fact that we are petitioning for this person or this necessity that we have, and that we’re praying for it. Really, human beings, we’re sacramental. We’re flesh, we’re bone, and we’re spiritual at the same time, and so along with the spiritual ideas we have, we need something that’s tangible. We need to see, we need to hear, we need to smell all of those things. And that’s why candles are so beautiful.
So I hope this helped out a little bit to understand the Catholic faith and the candles. Hopefully it’s not as weird as you thought it was. Thanks so much for joining us on Catholic NC TV, my name is Patrick Ginty, and I hope you and your family are very blessed.