In recent years candles have taken on a great popularity. There are scented candles, yankee candles, pillar candles, tea lights, votive lights, taper candles and all manner of materials from which they are made. It’s interesting that despite having all kinds of lights powered by electricity that candles should be so popular, but they are. In fact, people in the USA alone spend approximately $3.2 billion a year on candles. They’re used in 7 out of 10 households. Despite my best research efforts I’ve been unable to discover the equivalent figures for this country but I’m pretty sure that we would not be disproportionally far behind.
What is it about candles that modern people find so attractive and appealing? How is it that the flickering light of a candle can conjure up images of an elegant lady lying in a bath of bubbles chomping down on a Cadbury’s flake without smudging her immaculately applied fire-engine red lip gloss? How can a lighted candle on a kitchen table turn a microwaved lasagne from the deli counter in Super Value into an intimate and romantic meal for two? What would our grandparents who jettisoned the candles and tilly lamps in favour of 100 watt bulbs and fluorescent lights have to say about our renewed interest in candlelight?
As a person of faith, I look forward to the rediscovery of the power of the “blessed” candle. It was a permanent fixture on our back-kitchen window at home. Emerging from a polished jam-jar at a 45 degree angle, it was lit at each and every defining moment of our lives. It shone brightly for exams, driving tests, job interviews, doctor’s visits and even burning at least once for the duration of a beloved dog’s visit to the vet. No family event was too insignificant for the lighting of the blessed candle on the back-kitchen window sill. Its light of faith was meant to scatter the darkness of fear and anxiety.
Each year on the last week of January my grandmother had a standing order at O’Leary’s shop on the Limerick Road for two dozen beeswax candles. The order was split in two and each dozen was wrapped in brown paper with one labelled with the family name and the other labelled; “for Church use”. On the eve of Candlemas (which we celebrate on the 2nd February) the candles were left into the sacristy of the parish church. The candles were duly blessed at Candlemas and the packet with the family name was picked up and brought home in the days following. There was also a pride that candles our family had provided would burn on the altar during the celebration of Mass at some point in the following year. As a child I remember a veritable mountain of candles before the altar on Candlemas day. These days they are not piled so high or deep but it’s still important for many people to have the blessed candles in the home.
Throughout the world, lighting candles is a sacred ritual. We light a candle for many purposes: to illuminate darkness, dedicate prayers, solidify intentions, offer blessings, evoke Spirit, and to nourish grateful living. Lighting a blessed candle in our homes or lighting a candle in our parish church is a powerful and meaningful aid to our lives of prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reinforces this fundamental truth and teaches us that prayer involves our whole being, “Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole person who prays” (Catechism 2562)
There are many benefits to using candles to help us to pray. Praying with a candle in a darkened space can lead to fewer distractions and greater focus. There is something about the flickering flame of the candle that brings a sense of calming into our soul. Christians in the early Church, all the way through to the invention of electricity, prayed by the light of candles. This fact allows our prayer to have a beautifully rich side to it, recalling all those Christians who have gone before us in the sign of faith. We can recall their Christian witness and feel the comfort of their prayers, as they continue to intercede for us in the communion of saints.
In the gospel Jesus says of his followers; “You are the light of the world” The story is told of a congregation that built a new church in which to worship. It was beautifully constructed, practical in every consideration and lovely in every detail. Only one thing was omitted. There were no lights. Instead, little niches had been fashioned into the walls and window bases which were to hold candles. Each member was assigned a niche and told that he was to provide the candle for that particular spot. Otherwise, the spot would remain dark. In a very real sense, they were the light, and they got the message. They also understood that they were not only the light of the Church, but the “light of the world.”
Clare Champion Article Friday 5th of February 2021
Fr. Brendan Quinlivan, Tulla, Vicar Forane, Ceantar na Lochanna Pastoral Area