The Paschal Candle


From The Big Book of Catholic Sacramentals by Father Arthur Tonne

“I am the light of the world. He who follows me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light.” – St. John, 8:12.

About forty miles west and a little south of Denver, Colorado, is the famous Gray’s Peak. It is over 14,000 feet high and is part of the Rocky Mountain Range. A traveler at the turn of the century described his experience in climbing that mountain.

He and his party started out early in the morning before the sun was up. He had heard so much of the glorious gorges, the snow-capped summits, the sparkling streams, the limpid waters of Green Lake, fringed with flowers of every hue and fragrance.

On they climbed, higher and higher, but the beauties he had hoped to behold, could not be seen. Heavy clouds, hanging low over the slopes, threw blankets of mist over the valleys below. He was disappointed, weary and chilled to the bone.

Suddenly he saw a golden shaft of light pierce the clouds. Soon the sun scattered the clouds entirely, uncovering crag and chasm, unveiling lake and stream, bathing the entire valley with a golden glow. As if by magic, darkness turned to light, cold to warmth, night to day.

The life of man is something like climbing a mountain. Especially is the life of a Catholic during Lent like climbing a misty mountain. It is desolate, chilling and wearying. But when the first light of the Easter Candle casts its Holy Saturday light into the darkness of Holy Week, we begin to see the beauties of our faith, we begin to see what Christ meant when He declared: “I am the light of the world.”

The Paschal Candle represents Christ, the Light of the world. Its wax is a “mysterious virginal production” of “the cleanly bees.” It represents the virginal flesh of Christ, formed in the virginal womb of His Mother Mary. The wick symbolizes His human soul; the flame shows forth His divine nature.

In the body of the candle you will notice five grains of incense–the five wounds of our Lord, arranged in the form of a cross. The grains of incense recall the spices used to prepare His sacred body for burial.

The blessing of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday morning is a strikingly beautiful ceremony. After the blessing of the new fire and the procession up the aisle to the sanctuary, during which the triple candle is lighted with the triple announcement to the world: “Lumen Christi”–“The Light of Christ,” the celebrant goes to the Epistle side of the altar.

The deacon takes the book, asks and receives a blessing, and then sings the glorious “Exultet” whose opening words give the theme and spirit of its message: “Let the angelic choirs of heaven rejoice.”

Toward the end of the Preface which follows, the deacon fixes the five blessed grains of incense in the Candle in the form of a cross. After asking the heavenly Father to accept the sacrifice of this incense, the deacon lights the Paschal Candle with one of the triple candles which had been lighted from the new fire using a taper to transfer the light. Then the lamps and candles on the altar are lighted.

The deacon sings on. Here is part of his song: “We beseech Thee, therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated in honor of Thy name, may continue to burn to dissipate the darkness of this night. And being accepted as a sweet savor, may it be mixed with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find its flame alive; that star, which knows no setting, that star which returning from hell or limbo, shone serenely upon mankind.”

The column of wax has become an inspiring sacramental. Standing at the Gospel side of the altar, it puts us in mind of Christ, the Light of the world. Lighted first during the early morning darkness of Holy Saturday, it represents our divine Redeemer Himself, who was dead, but is now risen to a new life, never to die again.

The forty days during which we see the Paschal Candle in the sanctuary represent the forty days our Lord remained upon this earth after His resurrection, to further instruct and inspire His apostles and followers.

It is lighted at the solemn Mass and Vespers of Easter Sunday, and on all the Sundays to the Ascension. It is not to be lighted on other days or feasts within the Easter time, unless in churches where such a custom exists.

The custom most generally followed in the United States, though by no means universal, is to have the Paschal Candle burn on Sundays during Easter time at all the Masses and at Vespers.

With the coming of Ascension Thursday we behold a simple, stirring ceremony after the Gospel of the Mass, when the server extinguishes the Paschal Candle. Christ, whom it represents, has ascended into heaven.

Seldom is this waxen pillar entirely consumed before Ascension. In the early centuries the faithful secured small portions to keep in their homes as protection against evils of soul and body. From this pious practice the Agnus Dei took its origin.

Try to be present for the blessing of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday morning. Follow in your missal the beautiful ceremonies with which this emblem of Christ is set up in the sanctuary. Let the Paschal Candle keep continually before your mind that Christ is the Light of the world, Christ is the Light of your life.

There is so much darkness in the world. There is so much darkness in the minds and hearts of men. There is so much darkness in our lives–darkness of ignorance, darkness of unkindness, darkness of sin. Only Christ, the true Light, can dispel that darkness.

Climbing up to God is like climbing up a difficult mountain, like climbing up Gray’s Peak. Mists of misunderstanding and doubt and sadness oppress us. In such times of darkness turn to Christ, the true Light. Amen.

Introduce your children into the family’s prayers at the earliest age possible. As often as possible, say morning and night prayers or the Rosary with your children. Train them to take part in prayers before and after meals. In time of danger or sorrow, resort to prayer as the first and most important source of help and consolation. -Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik. The Catholic Family Handbook http://amzn.to/2r8cxGP (afflink)

Son-in-law, Mike, and granddaughter, Agnes

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