At Saint Patrick Catholic Church we have placed a votive candle stand near the Marian altar for parishioners who wish to light a candle in prayer.  This is part of the continued effort to provide parishioners more opportunities for prayer and devotion to our Lord.  Why do Catholics light candles?


Photo credit: Allison Kinyon Photography

Essential to Catholic Celebrations

In most every part of Catholic celebrations and rituals, lighting of candles play a very significant role. Candles are lighted during the celebration of the Mass, on liturgical and funeral processions and evening prayer ceremonies. Candles are lit before the Tabernacle to signify the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament and to call for reverence on the part of the faithful.

Significant in Judaism

In Judaism, a perpetual light was kept burning in the Temple and the synagogues not only to insure the ability to light other candles or oil lamps in the evening but also to show the presence of God (Exodus Sanctuary Lamp27:20-21 and Leviticus 24:2-4). Later, the Talmud prescribed a lit lamp at the Ark, where the Torah and other writings of Sacred Scripture were kept, to show reverence to the Word of God. This practice probably influenced our own tradition of having a lit candle near the Tabernacle to indicate the presence of and to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.

Pre-Dates Written History

Christians adapted the use of lit candles for Mass, liturgical processions, evening prayer ceremonies, funeral processions, and, again, to show reverence to the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, there is evidence that lit candles or oil lamps were burned at the tombs of saints, particularly martyrs, by the 200s, and before sacred images and relics by the 300s. However, this  practice probably existed well before our available written evidence.

A Symbol of Christ

In our Catholic tradition, in early times as well as today, light has a special significance — Christ. Recall Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life” (John 8:12) and “I have come to the world as its light, to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark” (John 12:46).

In our liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Paschal candle, which in turn symbolizes the Paschal mystery, and says to the newly baptized, “You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). The light is a symbol of Christ Himself.

The Light Is A Reminder to Stay Present to the Lord

With this background, we can appreciate the usage of votive candles. Here, as in early Christian times, we light a candle before a statue or sacred image of our Lord or of a saint. Of course, we do not honor the statue or the image itself, but whom that statue or image represents. The light signifies our prayer offered in faith coming into the light of God— allowing us to be filled with His light. With the light of faith, we petition our Lord in prayer, or petition the saint for intercession— to pray with us and for us to the Lord. The light also shows a special reverence and our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business.

If you light a candle in prayer and wish to make a donation to the parish, please place it in the collection at weekend Mass or drop it by the Parish Center during office hours.