Friday, May 9, 2008


Next we will try to enlighten ourselves a bit about candles. I have a burning desire to do so though this topic can’t hold a candle to bell symbolism. I just happen to have a bee in my bonnet to go into it.

The saddest part of this endeavor has been a discovery that I wish I hadn’t made. Everybody knows that liturgical candles must be 51% beeswax. Ask almost any priest (or candle manufacturer.) As it turns out, this is a former requirement that is not mandated any longer.

‘“DOL 208, p. 519, note R47, quoting the newsletter of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments Notitiae 10:80 (1974), no. 4: "Query: Must the lighted candles that are to be placed in candlesticks for the celebration of Mass consist in part of beeswax, olive oil, or other vegetable oil? Reply: The GIRM prescribes candles for Mass ‘as a sign of reverence and festiveness' (nos. 79, 269). But it makes no further determination regarding the material of their composition, except in the case of the sanctuary lamp, the fuel for which must be oil or wax (see Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, Introduction no. 11). The faculty that the conferences of bishops possess to choose suitable materials for sacred furnishings applies therefore to the candles for Mass. The faculty is limited only by the condition that in the estimation of the people the materials are valued and worthy and that they are appropriate for sacred use. Candles intended for liturgical use should be made of material that can provide a living flame without being smoky or noxious and that does not stain the altar cloths or coverings. Electric bulbs are banned in the interest of safeguarding authenticity and the full symbolism of light."’

Be (or bee) that as it may, traditionally liturgical candles represent Christ our Light. (Just one more reason why the Unity Candle does not make sense in the Catholic Liturgy, but that is for another day.) The wax is often identified with the flesh of Christ and the wick His soul. (The reason beeswax was prescribed was that it symbolizes purity being made by the virgin male honey bee.) The flame that gives us light sacrifices itself; consumes itself for our benefit as Christ gave Himself for us. “I am the light of the world,” says the Lord, and its light (and natural scent if still made of beeswax) reminds us of His sacred body.

1 comment:

Sister Caprice said...

I'd heard that about the candles, but like you, this is a new discovery. And I've heard a LOT of people criticizing the types of candles used at church. Maybe they should read this post!