Thoughts for the Month

Dear Friends,

I often light a candle in my study and say a prayer. Today was no exception; a friend called to say that his father was very ill, so I said a prayer and lit a candle. Lighting a candle is a practical response to prayer. Sometimes people use votive candles. This means that they light a candle as an outward sign of an internal prayer that they are making. They often leave them in special shrine areas of churches, and their continued burning represents the enduring prayer. Lighting a candle focuses our attention on a shared act and reminds us that we are part of a much greater mystery.

There is nothing new about it, either. In fact, if you go to some of the catacombs in Rome, the underground tunnels where Christians secretly buried their dead, you will find examples which survive of clay oil lamps, that were used to give light to Christians who gathered for worship before the fourth century.

So, candles and lamps have a natural use in Christianity just as in any other circle: they illuminate. But of course, there is a greater significance when candles are used in worship, or as a focus for our prayers. We have candles on our altar at Holy Trinity, and at Christmas the church looked amazing with the windows festooned with hurricane lamps; there was also a memorable candlelit wedding.

There are some Christians, and during my ministry I have met them, who can see no point in using candles. I for one do not adopt such a purist approach!

In John’s Gospel, chapter 8:12, we read: Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Every Easter Vigil (the night before Easter Sunday) the Paschal Candle is solemnly lit from a newly-kindled fire and is carried in procession into the darkened church. A special honour is given to the Paschal Candle throughout the Easter period, and on certain other occasions such as baptisms and funerals. It is a symbol of Christ, the light that overcame darkness. That’s why we give the newly baptised a candle after their baptism.

But we don’t need to be in church to light a candle as a symbol of prayer. If you have been given a candle for Christmas, why not use it as a focus for prayer at home? I do.

 Martin

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