Liturgy We Live
by Dr. Gil Haas

Church candles provide two uses: light and decoration. Acts 20:8 mentions “many lights” at the celebration of the Eucharist. However, it was only about 1,000 years ago that candles were commonly found on church’s altars. Like many ceremonial items in Anglican tradition, dispute surrounds Eucharistic candles. However, following Charles II’s Restoration, there is evidence for their almost universal use. Edward VI (1547) enjoined that “two lights upon the high altar, before the sacrament,” be placed since “Christ is the very true light of the world.” Despite this tradition, three Episcopal General Conventions in the mid nineteenth century considered, but never passed, prohibitions against altar candles. Anglo-Catholics favored their use, while Evangelicals condemned them. Candles were originally carried before the celebrant as an honor reminiscent of Roman officials. Gospel candles signified the especial significance of the Word of God. At the Easter Vigil, candles are lit before the Easter Acclamation, “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” Lit candles are placed on newly consecrated altars. Paschal candles are lit at the beginning of Easter Vigil and signify the light of Christ; they burn continuously through Pentecost. Baptismal candles are often relit on the anniversary of a person’s baptism. Requested by Maryann Sonntag

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