Catholicism and Candle Use(Part 2) By: Rev. Fr. Daniel Adjei Aboagye
Catholicism and Candle Use(Part 2)
By: Rev. Fr. Daniel Adjei Aboagye
Old and New Testament:
The custom and practice of lighting candles is not only a significant symbol for Catholics but also Orthodox churches, communities and families. It originates from the biblical context of the Old Testament times where an oil lamp was lighted to ‘sustain a perpetual flame.’
It is therefore right to say that from the beginning of Judaism and for that matter Christianity, fire and lights have been an intrinsic element associated with worship and liturgical rituals.
From the Old Testament, during the Exodus period, the Israelites were told to “keep a flame burning perpetually” (Exodus 27:19-20), as “perpetual incense before the Lord from generation to generation” (Exodus 30:7-8) and as a “lamp stand in the Tent of Meeting… set up before the Lord as He has commanded Moses” (Exodus 40:24-25).
Again, the Psalmist also offers a similar paradigm, “For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness (Ps 18:28). This symbolism of perpetual flame of fire burning for the Jews have two significance in their communion with God.
Firstly, it reflects the Israelites constant act of devotion to God and secondly the light in the tent of meeting signifies the holy space where the divine encounters humanity, a place where God dwells.
Catholicism till today, has held on to this tradition of having a perpetual flame of light or candle burning beside all Tabernacles (Latin for ‘tent’) that hold the Body and Blood of Christ.
The light/candle burning in the church just like the command in Exodus, tell every soul that enters the church that it is a sacred ground where God dwells, a consecrated place where God in his divinity meets man and woman in their humanity.
From our new dispensation (New Testament), Jesus, the definitive incarnation of the Father and a fulfilment of the old covenant, speaks of himself as the light of our world.
He is the perpetual flame of light that burns in the Tent of meeting where humanity meet face to face with the divine. Jesus is the candle of light that covers the darkness of evil.
John’s theology of the light and darkness paints a clear picture of Jesus as the light that has come to defeat the darkness of our world. Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have light and life” (John 8:12).
Again, John writes of Jesus, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12) and “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
The early Christians who use to gather in catacombs later saw lighted candles within their gatherings as a symbol of Christ present among them.
It therefore became part to their sacred devotion and worship to reflect their communion with him and their liberation from the darkness of the world.
For further scriptural references see the following:
Exod 25:31-38, Ex 30:7-8, Ex 40:24-25, 2 Chr 13:11, 1 Maccabees 4:49-50, 2 Maccabees 10:3, Mt 5:14-16, Mk 4:21-22, Lk 11:33 and Heb 9:2.
With these scriptural background, we can have a perfect understanding of the symbolism of light.
…to be continued next week…