LITURGY MATTERS: The Easter Candle – No mere decoration

By Michael McKenna

A central symbol of the divine light which is Christ (Jn 8:12), the Easter (Paschal) Candle is kept near the ambo during the Octave of Easter and throughout the Easter season it is lit for all the liturgical celebrations of that period. Throughout the year the candle is restored to our liturgical notice for the rites of baptism and funerals.

As a singular expression of the light of Christ in itself, the paschal candle is also a sum of several other symbolic attributes.

Among them are the inscribed cross, that superlative symbol of Jesus through the instrument by which he saved the world from sin and death; the two Greek letters: alpha (Α) and omega (Ω) referenced by our Lord who said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 21:6-7); and the calendar year that serves to remind us that all time belongs to God who is present with us today and is constantly guiding all of creation to himself.

The inscribed cross is surmounted by five grains of incense inserted into the candle that correspond to the five “holy and glorious wounds” of Christ.

Substantially the candle’s composition also provides rich symbolism with its pure wax extracted by bees from flowers signifying the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother; the wick denoting the soul of Christ and the flame His divinity.

In the procession which follows the Lucernarium ritual, from the Easter candle all others are lit in the church, showing how Jesus is the source of our light.

At the same time, as a pillar of fire of sorts, the candle takes after that “pillar of fire” which led the people of Israel and protected them as they escaped the slavery of the Egyptians and is referenced in the Exsultet proclaimed at the Easter vigil: “This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.”

Indeed, in singing the Paschal Candle’s “perfect praises” the words of the Exsultet are quite instructional and worthy of our reflection.

This year may we look upon the Easter Candle with fresh eyes as more than mere decoration: “Now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light.”

May our Easter bring with it joy and many blessings! Alleluia!

Tags: Liturgy