Christianity 201

February 25, 2020

On the Lighting of Candles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:22 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
 – I Peter 2:9 NIV

I did not grow up with the liturgical calendar or anything close to it. In the last decade or so, I have learned so much from those for whom this is a bedrock of how their faith in Christ is expressed. In preparing Christianity 201, we draw from a wide variety of doctrinal streams. (If you missed yesterday’s post, by a Lutheran minister, it is a great example.)

Today someone asked me about the availability of “Lent candles.” I was familiar with Advent candles, but this one was new to me. A quick Google search revealed there are indeed such things, and “Pentecost candles” also, which got me wondering where candles appear in scripture.

In the KJV, Proverbs 20:27 reads,  The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly. The NASB renders this as, The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, Searching all the innermost parts of his being. The NLT seems to take a slightly different approach: The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive. The Passion Translation best expresses the source of the light, The spirit God breathed into man is like a living lamp, a shining light searching into the innermost chamber of our being.

The candle reference to which more of you are familiar follows the statement of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount which begins, ‘You are the light of the world.’ Again, the KJV, Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Or, if you prefer, the ISV: People don’t light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

But why do we light candles today?

The website Schoenstatt comes up in web search results and begins with a reference to Hebrews 9:2 (NIV shown) A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand [KJV: candlestick] and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. The article begins noting the prevalence of candles in Catholic worship:

The custom and praxis of lighting candles is a significant convention in Catholic and Orthodox churches, communities and families, originating from Old Testament times where an oil lamp was lighted to ‘sustain a perpetual flame.’ In The New Testament they emphasize the sacredness of this light in Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews. ‘A first tent was prepared with the lamp stand, the table and the bread of the presence; this is called the Holy Place’.

In current Catholic tradition, this light has a precisely distinct status for it symbolizes Christ who said, ‘I am the Light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have light and life,’ chronicled in (John 8:12). Most clergy however, relate the candle as representing Jesus as the Light of the world, but also the light and fire as representing the presence and power of God (similar to the pillar of fire that led the children of Israel in the exodus).

Many individuals light a candle prior to worship to symbolize their life as an offering, being burned up in service to God. All of these beliefs, and many more, exist forming elements of this symbolism. Christian faith is filled with symbolism, all of which is effective in teaching us to appreciate our faith in a way that goes beyond the intellectual level. Anything you do, like getting on your knees in prayer as an act of humility, can be very helpful and meaningful for communicating nuances of our faith which goes way beyond our available intellect…

The HolyArt blog adds,

Lighting up a candle in church is a tangible sign of faith. From the baptism candles to votive candles, light as a symbol of love towards God…

Light as manifestation of God then, as His first manifestation since that is the first thing He created in his endless benevolence and wisdom, and with it, He made all the Creation visible. Light as symbol of Christ, who said about himself: “I am the true light”, and that for us all embodies the Light of God that brightens the world, that defies death and forces darkness to withdraw…

…But there is also a more intimate dimension, tied to the practice of lighting up a candle in church, something that concerns every devotee and his silent dialog with God. A lit candle becomes the symbol of divine fire burning inside all of us, the expression of a flaming passion that warms us and makes us part of that Light that Jesus symbolizes, but that all Christians are part of…

Lighting up a candle in church, or holding one during a procession or a community ritual, has a deep unifying purpose. In such occasions, our love becomes unanimous, like a hymn sung by many joyful voices altogether. It is not just us, nor our swaying flame, but we become part of a union made of love and warmth, many fragments of light warming up in the passion of our faith, in the endlessly benevolent and shiny look of God…

These are obviously two very Catholic answers, especially if you click the links to read the selected quotes in context.

But what about Evangelical churches which are increasingly using candles, not to mention adopting the whole of the liturgical calendar? Reformed/Calvinist worship leader Bob Kauflin dealt with this in a 2006 response to a reader.

[C]andles might intentionally be used to illustrate Jesus coming as the Light of the world, or highlight that the Word of God is a light for our path. They could also be used to emphasize that we are God’s people who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). The atmosphere that multiple candles produce can also draw attention to the awe we should experience as we encounter the God of the universe. However that should be balanced by the fact that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and can enter God’s presence with freedom and boldness (Eph. 3:12).

We’re out of space for today. Are candles part of your church’s tradition?


We posted this song back in 2012, noting that it might be more familiar to Catholic readers. I hope you enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

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