Eastertide: Day 6
One of the most important and significant symbols of Easter is the Paschal candle. Each Catholic church uses a new, specially-made Paschal candle at the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. The Pashal candle is first lit from the sacred fire at the very beginning of Mass and the priest solemly processess with it, lit, into the darkened church, chanting. In a typical year, the congregation walks inside with the priest, usually holding individual candles that are lit from the great Paschal candle. Because of COVID-19, this year we did not have our own candles at church, as we would have to get too close to each other to light them, but we will hope for that next year!
The Paschal candle symbolizes THE light of the world, Jesus Christ. Because it is lit from the sacred fire, we believe in faith that it's light is different than the light given off by other candles. This is why the priest chants "Lumen Christi" (Light of Christ) and we respond "Deo gratias" (Thanks be to God) as he enters the church. This action is literally proclaiming the entrance of the light of the Christ into the world. God shared his light with us, which is why we light our own smaller candles from the one great Paschal candle.
Before the priest enters with the Paschal candle, however, he prepares it outside by piercing it with 5 bits of incense, representing the 5 wounds of Christ and the spices used to bury him. As he says each line, the priest inserts the incense into the candle, in the form of a cross:
1. By his holy
2. and glorious wounds,
3. may Christ the Lord
4. guard us
5. and protect us. Amen.
The priest then lights the candle from the new fire, saying:
May the light of Christ, rising in glory,
dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
The Paschal candle will stay on the altar of the church for the duration of the Easter season. After that, it is moved near the Baptismal font where it will stay for the rest of the year. It will be lit again during Baptisms and funerals, signfying our dying and rising with the Lord, but not at daily or weekly Masses.
As you can see from the photo above, each Paschal candle bears the signs of the Alpha and the Omega, as well as the year of use. There are all kinds of designs for Paschal candles, from very colorful to very simple. Our candle last year was quite Celtic looking. This year, we've changed to a simple red and gold candle. They are always beautiful though. In fact, I think I may start a photo album of the Paschal candles I see at different churches. I am always amazed at the ability of artists to create new designs that remain inspiring and uplifing each year.
One of the crafts that we like to do with our families at church is to give them a chance to create a similar candle that they can take and use all year in their homes. Obviously, these candles are not the Paschal candle, but they are good reminders that we are an "Easter people and Alleluia is our song", as St. John Paul II told us. This is a simple, visible way to make the connection between the universal church and the domestic church.
We begin with a plain white pillar candle. These are the safest and longest burning candles. Then, we print out many different Easter symbols and the families have a conversation picking out which symbols they want to use. The photos below show 2 of the symbols - the Easter crosses and an Easter lily. We've also used an empty tomb, Easter eggs, the sunrise, etc. We typically have about 10 different symbols to choose from. In the center of the candle, the families place the annual Easter sticker - the Alpha and the Omega, with the year. Using glue dots and whole cloves, the families place 5 pieces of incense around the Easter cross, praying while they do it. Then, they can add ribbons or other stickers to finish their candles. We ask them to put the candles in a place where they will use it during the year, like on the family dinner table or in their prayer space.
This is one of the most popular activities we do and is a good reminder of walking with the Light through the year. So, what does the Paschal candle in your church look like? Do you know where it is?