light a candle

What is the significance of lighting a prayer candle for church worship? The meaning of lighting a candle in church can vary from person to person, but in general, candles represent our prayer intentions. A person may light a prayer candle to symbolize a prayer offering for him or herself, or for other people. It is also common for people to light a candle for peace. A board may be placed nearby to note the names of people for whom prayer is requested; it is also common to see a donation box, which provides funds to churches so they may continue to purchase candles.

Candle lighting during church worship

Candles have always been used in the Church in a symbolic way as a meditation on light and the sacrifices of the early Christians. They also served a more utilitarian purpose: providing light in a dark space. Though we don’t need them any more for this reason, candles still play a symbolic role in most Mass celebrations, as well as other special occasions in the Church. In the Catholic church, lighting a candle signifies the fulfillment of a vow or promise, or to give honor and devotion to the saint in front of whom the candle is placed. This is not in honor of the statue itself, but rather of what the statue represents. The candles used in churches are typically made of beeswax, in keeping with tradition.

Why light a prayer candle?

Beyond the use of candles during Mass and the Easter Vigil, there are a lot of reasons why people choose to light a candle in church. The tradition of lighting individual prayer candles is a longstanding one. In the Catholic faith, candles are usually place in front of a statue or image of a saint. This likely comes from the custom of burning candles in front of the tombs of the martyrs, when the candles burned as a sign of solidarity with Christians still on earth.

Of course, candles shed light on our desires or wishes, but candles also represent the light of Christ; this light illuminates our hearts when we feel burdened and helps us turn toward God to reflect on whatever is resonating within us in that moment. Some of these may include:

  • Affirmations
  • Blessings for ourselves or others
  • Gratitude
  • Inner reflection
  • Prayers for a saint’s intercession

As our prayer candles burn, our prayers rise up to Heaven as small symbols of the One Light of Christ and the faith that burns continuously in our hearts, even as we depart the church and go about our daily business. 

Lighting candles for peace

One of the most universal ways to use candles in church is to light a candle for peace. As we live in a world where peace is elusive due to war, threats of war, or even natural disasters, lighting a candle for peace allows to stand in solidarity with all of those around us affected by these conflicts. It also reminds us that Isaiah called Jesus the “Prophet of Peace”, the one who teaches us all how to be peacemakers and the one who will bring peace to Earth again when He returns.

Ultimately, when we light a candle for peace, we recognize that, like the flame of a candle, peace is a light that shines in a dark place. As we look at the candle, we can celebrate the peace we find in Jesus Christ and know that it is through him alone that true peace is made possible.

When you light a candle for peace in church, consider also saying a prayer for the following people or situations: 

  • War refugees or those displaced due to natural disaster or famine
  • That there may be peace among the nations from all political strife
  • That we may live peacefully with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with those who have not yet found God and who are in need of our prayers
  • Those who seek peace from inner turmoil or family conflict
  • Peace for those struggling with the storms of life

People all over the world are in need of our prayers each day; lighting a candle in church is a physical manifestation and symbol of our solidarity and promise to lift them up in prayer.

Lighting a candle in church is a universal gesture of goodwill

When we light a prayer candle, we serve the good that is in all of us. Lighting a candle in church cauterizes all that is evil in us and acts as a universal gesture of goodwill that is immune to politics, philosophy, or dogma. It is an act that unites, not divides.

When you wish to light a candle in church – an act that is not restricted to a certain kind of believer – consider doing so in the following scenarios:

  • Light a prayer candle: Light a prayer candle for yourself, someone else, or for a certain situation. Silently bow your head and direct your prayer to God, the saints, or the angels.
  • Light a blessing candle: Lighting a blessing candle can be a way to help someone else when we are unsure of what else to do. It also helps us remember that there are blessings in everything – even when life is challenging. Lighting a blessing candle releases your blessing into the universe.
  • Light a gratitude candle: When we light a prayer candle or simply when we pray on a daily basis in our homes or at church, it is often because we want to ask God for something. How often do we stop to say a prayer of thanks or gratitude? Giving thanks to God is one of the many reasons why we can light a candle in church.

The natural beauty of candles can have a profound spiritual impact on our souls. Whether we are lighting a candle in church for prayer, blessings, or peace, the symbolism of the candle’s burning flame serves to reignite the spirit and fill it with the fire of God’s love.

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