Rediscovering Catholic Traditions: Candles

candles in church | Photo by Pascal Müller on Unsplash

Anyone who has ever visited my house can tell you that I love candles. Each room is adorned with them, all different scents, shapes, sizes and colors.

My obsession, I believe, actually began many years ago—in church. When I was younger, my grandparents would often take my sisters and me to church with them on Saturday afternoons. Tucked into one of the front corners of the church they attended was a large rack of votive candles—some small, some large. People would place their money in the attached box and then light a candle for their particular prayer request or in thanksgiving for a prayer answered.

Many a Saturday afternoon Mass, I would spend time watching the dancing flames reflect off the stained-glass windows, and the wisps of smoke rise toward the heavens. I remember thinking how much those who lit the large candles must have needed their prayers heard.

And whenever I needed a prayer answered, I would fervently save up my money for one of those candles. I was convinced it gave my prayer that extra little boost it needed to be answered. After all these years, the flickering of those candles in that darkened church corner remains an indelible image and symbol of my faith for me.

The power of that image was also reinforced for me and my sisters outside of church. Both my grandma and mom had a ritual of lighting votive candles in our homes to request intercession at the time of a particularly difficult task, test, decision or event. It’s one of the traditions of my childhood that I have continued with my own family.

Candles, Candles Everywhere

So you can understand why I have such an affinity for candles. To me, they represent so many different things on so many different levels.

For instance, on birthday cakes they represent celebration. During a power outage they can serve as comfort. Surrounding a warm bath they bring relaxation or in their mere presence they can serve as a gentle reminder of my faith.

To be honest, as a Catholic, it seems only natural that I would be drawn to candles. Within our faith, they really do serve as an integral part of the customs and rituals in which we so often take part.

In fact, stop for a moment and think of the last Church event or season you experienced—Sunday Mass, a Baptism or wedding, Advent or Lent, the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Did candles somehow play a role? Probably.

A Luminous Reminder

Candles serve as a constant and worthy reminder to us of God’s presence in our lives. They are a gentle tap on the shoulder that, from that small flame, can come warmth, comfort, illumination—everything we could ever possibly need or desire. Their presence also reminds us that just as Jesus is light for us, we must also serve as light for others. Our faith is not meant to be kept to ourselves. Taken in that context, candles sure seem to take on a bigger meaning.

So the next time you witness the dancing of a candle’s flame—be it in your church or in your home—stop and take a moment to soak it in. In our hectic and hurried lives, that small flicker can serve as a wonderful reminder to trust in God, the light of the world.


On February 2, 40 days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple (Candlemas Day) and his recognition there by Simeon as “a light of revelation to the gentiles” (see Luke 2:32). The next day, the feast of St. Blaise, candles are used for the blessing of throats.

After the Paschal candle is lit during the Easter Vigil, the priest or deacon proclaims, “Light of Christ.” We respond, “Thanks be to God.” During the Sacrament of Baptism, after a candle is lit from the Paschal candle, the newly baptized are urged to “keep the flame of faith alive” in their hearts. The Paschal candle is also used at the Mass of Christian Burial.

Next Month: Ashes and Fasting

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