Altar candle

Altar candle

Altar candles are candles set on or near altars for religious ceremonies. Various denominations have regulations or traditions regarding the number and type of candles used, and when they are lit or extinguished during the services.

Altar candles may sit directly on the altar or be placed in tall stands to the side of or behind the altar. For safety, altar candles are secured in some type of candle holder which may be simple or elaborate. To prevent wax from dripping, candles are often topped by a "candle follower", a short tube made of brass, glass or some other non-flammable material.

In the Roman Catholic Church

In the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, candles are required to be placed on or beside the altar, at least for the celebration of Mass.


To the three elements of a lit altar candle, some writers attached a symbolism related to Jesus Christ: the beeswax or other material symbolizing his body, the wick his soul, and the flame his divinity.


For celebration of Mass, it is required that "on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation. If the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candles should be used". [cite web | year = 2005 | month = 04 | title = General Instruction of the Roman Missal | format = PDF | publisher = Catholic truth society | url = | pages = 17 |accessdate = 2007-02-13]

At the beginning of the twentieth century, complex rules governed the composition and number of candles to be used at Mass.Citation
last =Schulte
first =A.J.
author-link =
contribution =Altar Candles
year =1907
title =The Catholic Encyclopedia
editor-last =
editor-first =
volume =1
series =
pages =
place =New York
publisher =Robert Appleton Company
id =
isbn =
url =
accessdate = 2007-02-13
] Lighted candles of the correct composition (beeswax, with no more than a minimal admixture of other material, and usually bleached) were considered so essential that, if before the consecration they happened to go out (quenched, for instance, by a gust of wind) and could not be relit within fifteen minutes, the celebration of Mass had to be abandoned, and some writers maintained that even if the candles could be relit within that time, Mass should in any case be begun again from the start. Some of these rules were formulated only in the second half of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The Roman Missal of the time continued to indicate merely that on the altar there should be "at least two candlesticks with lit candles" with a centrally placed cross between them ("Rubricae generales Missalis, XX - De Praeparatione Altaris, et Ornamentorum eius"). There is also a rule given in the same section of the Roman Missal - and still included even in the typical 1920 edition [cite web |date=1920-07-25 | title = Missale Romanum | format = PDF | url = | accessdate = 2007-02-13] - that "a candle to be lit at the elevation of the Sacrament" should be placed with the cruets of wine and water to the Epistle side of the altar.

Eastern Orthodoxy

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, either candles or oil lamps are prescribed for use on the Holy Table (altar). Traditionally, in the Orthodox Church only pure beeswax candles may be offered in an Orthodox church. These may be plain or bleached—in some places, bleached beeswax candles are reserved for the Paschal season (Easter).

There will often be a matched pair of candlesticks to either side of the tabernacle, which are lit at any time the Holy Doors in the Iconostasis are opened. In the Slavic practice, these candlesticks usually hold a single large candle; in the Greek practice, these may be five-branch candlesticks. Additionally, in the Slavic practice, there is usually a large seven-branch candlestick directly behind the Holy Table.

A Sanctuary lamp (usually oil, but sometimes wax) will also be placed either on the Holy Table, or suspended above it. Traditionally, this lamp should be kept burning perpetually.

Some Orthodox Churches have adopted the habit (borrowed from Uniate practice) of placing a lit candle on a stand to the side of the Holy Table around the time of the Epiklesis.


Candles are placed on the altar in other liturgical rites of Christian Churches also. To avoid any appearance of imitating Catholic practices, some Protestant denominations forbid their use.Fact|date=June 2008

However, in Anglo-Catholicism, as in Anglicanism in general, candles are used frequently in churches.

ee also

*Religious symbolism


External links

* [ Altar Candles] article from "The Catholic Encyclopedia

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