Candlelight

Q. While watching EWTN, I note some churches display candelabras with six and even seven candles on the altars. What is the meaning of this?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

We take light for granted, but our ancestors without gas and electric power found the world a considerably darker, colder and more dangerous place than the world we inhabit. When St. John calls Jesus “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:9), and when Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14), they are making remarkable claims. Candles have always played a practical role in Christian worship, but worshipers have long appreciated their symbolic value as well.

When we increase the number of candles at a Mass we emphasize the importance of the liturgy — or its celebrant. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal prescribes, “On or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation, or if the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candlesticks with lighted candles” (No. 117). Other texts indicate how candles should accompany the Book of the Gospels and the processional cross. As one reads the General Instruction one realizes the prescribed number of candles is a minimum; one can use as many as one likes.