By Msgr Michael de Verteuil, Chair of the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! And here we are at Easter where we celebrate in a special way this great joy of Christ’s Resurrection.
One of the symbols of the Easter season is the Easter or Paschal candle. Understandably, as with some of the ancient traditions of the Church, it is difficult to know the origins of the Easter candle, though some suggest it has its origin in the fourth century Roman tradition of lighting candles on Easter night.
The present celebration of light begins with a fire being lit outside the church with the people gathered around (not this COVID year, however, as the people will remain in the church).
The candle is prepared by tracing the sign of the cross on it along with the alpha and omega signs (since Jesus is the beginning and the end) and the year.
Five grains of incense are placed one each in places on the cross representing the five wounds of Christ (his head, two hands, side, and feet).
As he is doing this, the priest says, “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. All time belongs to Him and all the ages. To Him be glory and power through every age and forever.”
And for the inserting of the incense grains: “By His holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us.” Beautiful prayers in their own right.
The candle is then lit from the new fire and the priest or deacon processes with it, raising it three times and proclaiming, “Christ the light”.
This is the symbolism of the candle—a reminder of Jesus who proclaimed, “I am the light of the world” (Jn 8:12), the light that defeated the darkness of the tomb and the light, we pray, which will dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
The procession to the altar with the light calls to mind that we are a people on pilgrimage following Chris, the light (“The one who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” Jn 8:12). There is also the reminder of the people of God wandering in the desert being led at night by God as a pillar of fire.
Once the candle arrives at the sanctuary, it is placed near the ambo (lectern) until the end of the Easter season when it is moved to the baptistery or sacristy.
During the Easter season, the candle is lit every time the church gathers for liturgy. Outside of the Easter season, it is used for funerals (the light of life conquers the darkness of the tomb) and baptisms (baptism enlightens us and gives us the light of faith).
Outside of these times, “The paschal candle should not otherwise be lit nor placed in the sanctuary outside the Easter season” (Celebration of the Easter Feasts, Congregation for Divine Worship).