We begin February with the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple or "Candlemass". Candlemass is a nice name for this important festival of the Church, because candles have such a long connection with the Eucharist, a connection that is both practical and symbolic.
Over the centuries priests must have strained their eyes trying to read the prayers from liturgical books by candlelight, although it can still prove to be a very good light, as we have sometimes found at some of our services at St George's when we have used only candlelight with the electric lighting switched off. Candlelight must surely have been one of the great discoveries of history and it appears in many sayings and quotations through the centuries.
Symbolically, a candle has been compared to the passing of time, indeed candles were used as a means of keeping time before clocks were invented and to life itself being "snuffed out".
Much of the symbolism of candles is religious. These days it is rare to find a church (except perhaps an Evangelical or Protestant one) where there is not a candle stand for people to light a candle as a symbol of their prayer. People too look different by candlelight. Shrines like Walsingham are full of candles, from the small ones carried in the torchlight procession to the larger ones in front of the altar in the shrine itself. I have noticed recently (probably a custom people have seen abroad) of lanterns hanging over the graves of departed loved ones in the Hulbert Road Cemetery, a sign of the Resurrection life perhaps?
The most important candle of all candles in a Christian Church is the Easter Candle, the great sign of the Risen Christ, the Light of the World. The Easter candle stands by the altar for the whole of Eastertide until Pentecost, when it is placed by the font and lit for Holy Baptism and at funerals. From that candle at Baptism a lighted candle is given to the Parents or Godparents, as a sign that our faith is an Easter Faith. They are urged to see that the light of faith is kept burning brightly for the child. At a funeral the Easter Candle stands by the coffin to remind us of the Risen Christ, the Saviour who will change our mortal bodies that they may be like His Glorious Body.
Lent and Holy Week will soon be with us once more as we prepare for the glorious and most important day in the Church's Year - Easter Day, when that candle will be set up again by the altar. The prayer used for its blessing speaks of the bees that made the wax for the candle, as though all creation were involved in this the greatest of all the celebrations of the Risen Lord. As you come into our church look at the Easter Candle by the font and remember what Christ has done for us through His Death and Resurrection. A victory we all share in through our baptism.
With my prayers and blessing,
Your priest and friend
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