CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD: The Significance of the Paschal Candle

CHRIST THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD: The Significance of the Paschal Candle April 24, 2011
Last night at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, our pastor Fr. Bob LaCroix prepared the Paschal Candle. The pure white wax of the candle is inscribed with a cross, along with the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet, and the date of this year of grace.

As we gathered outside the church to watch, Father Bob inserted five grains of incense incased in wax into the candle, representing the wounds our Savior received on the Cross in his hands, feet, and side. As the nails on which the grains are mounted were driven into the candle, Father Bob prayed the ancient prayers:

“Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega; all time belongs to him, and all the ages; to him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.”

“By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us. Amen.”

But before that, a new fire had been kindled in the deepening twilight, and then blessed with this prayer:

“Father, we share in the light of your glory through your Son, the light of the world. Make this new fire holy, and inflame us with new hope. Purify our minds by the Easter celebration, and bring us one day to the feast of eternal light.”

From that new fire, the Paschal Candle was lit. It was then carried in solemn procession into the church, where it will burn before the altar throughout the Easter season. It will also be lighted during each Baptism in the coming year.

* * * * *

So began the Easter Vigil—easily the most glorious and the most complex liturgy of the liturgical year. The night began with darkness, representing the darkness of sin and the absence of God.

Then, the Paschal Candle was lighted and its light cut into the darkness, casting a soft glow throughout the church. When the candle was placed in its stand near the altar, the Easter Proclamation was read:

“Dear friends in Christ, we have begun our solemn vigil. Let us now listen attentively to the word of God, recalling how God saved his people throughout history and, in the fullness of time, sent his own Son to be our Redeemer.”

There were readings and hymns on this night from the Old Testament and from the New Testament. Together they tell the story of Salvation History, from Genesis to Exodus to the prophet Isaiah, from the Psalms and Proverbs, and culminating with the Easter story as told in Matthew’s Gospel.

At first the church was dark, with only the Paschal Candle visible in the gloom. From the great candle, though, a small flame was passed—and then another—and another—until everyone in the church held a candle and the space was aglow with the warmth and light of Christ in the world, made manifest in each of us.

The Easter Vigil is that most special of days when the candidates and catechumens who have been studying the faith are finally received into the Church.

We celebrated with that most familiar of traditional prayers, the Litany of the Saints, calling upon our friends in heaven to intercede for us with the Father.  Last night, five people were baptized—including lovely Anna, for whom I was both godmother and Confirmation sponsor.

Then the five new Christians (neophytes) were clothed in white garments signifying their purity, and were presented with a candle lit from the Easter Candle. They, plus five others who had been baptized previously, were brought into the fullness of the faith through Confirmation.

All in the congregation were invited to renew their baptismal vows. Anna and the nine others who had studied the Catholic Faith this year received Communion with our community.

God’s grace was tangible in these new converts, old and young, whose faith had brought them to this night. Let us pray for them, that they will continue to grow strong in faith—and for the rest of us, that our long-held beliefs will be strengthened as we celebrate the Eucharist together in the years to come.

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