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Why Do We Have Candles At Mass?
If you’ve grown up with candles at mass you may never have given them too much thought. Like many other things that we do in the church though, candles were originally used for both practical as well as symbolic reasons.
The practical reasons for using candles are easy enough to appreciate. We can imagine the dark churches of Northern Europe in the winters before electric lighting. But also, during times of persecution, Christians often used to meet before dawn - you don’t have to be a genius to work out that they needed some form of lighting in order to celebrate the liturgy. In both situations, candles are perfect.
The symbolism of candles is also easy to make sense of. For example, whenever we light a candle - whatever the situation - it can serve to remind us that Jesus is there in that place with us. As well as that, anyone who has ever prayed by the light of a candle is likely to have been struck by the way ‘gives’ all of itself in order to provide us with its light.
The early Church had its own insights about the symbolism of candles. In the fourth century, Saint Jerome wrote: “Throughout the Churches of the East, lights are kindled when the Gospel is to be read, although the sun is shining: not, indeed, to drive away the darkness, but as a sign of sprirtual joy”.