What do the candles in your church mean?
Most Christian churches use candles with various meanings. The most common use is as a reminder of the light Jesus brought into this world. This kind of light doesn’t just light up a space in the night but enlightens our lives.
The Orthodox Christians probably use the most candles. They trace the use of lamps and candles back to the Old Testament. The services in the first temple in Jerusalem included lamps and candles not just for light but for their symbolic significance.
It is recorded in the 2nd century that candles were used not just for light but to symbolize Christ as the Uncreated Light that keeps us from seeming to walk around in darkness even in the light, as found in Psalms 119:105, “Your lamp is a light unto our feet and a light unto my path.”
At other times candles are lit to express the joy of the gifts of God.
Many Christian churches have an eternal flame or lamp candle which burns continuously, representing the constant presence of God and the light that shines through the believers.
Orthodox Christians light candles before Icons as an outward sign of faith and belief that God’s help is always sent to those who turn to Him and His saints in faith and prayer. They also use many candles in special services and in processionals.
In the Roman Catholic church the paschal candle represents the True Light of Christ and the small votive candles represent each individual Catholic striving to be like Christ. The consumption of wax also represents the sacrifice of the old testament.
It is also a symbol of willingness to give oneself over to God and to offer sacrifices of one’s own. Votive candles also symbolize the rising of prayers to God with the smoke the candle emits as it burns.
Many Christian churches use baptismal candles. These represent the person receiving the light of Christ. In some churches it also represents the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Many references in the Bible refer to light. At that time fire was the only source of light, so it is a natural progression to candles representing that light. Since that time, candlelight or lamp light has represented the ‘Light of Christ’ in our churches, as well as representing the presence of God. Fire representing the presence of God goes all the way back to Moses and the burning bush, and the Israelites following the pillar of fire in the wilderness as well as other Jewish celebrations.
Candles in the church have always been a reminder of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit and a sign of respect and honor towards God.