Lighting Candles, Sign of Cross after Communion

Lighting Candles in front of Statues

Q: Why do people still light candles in front of statues in Catholic churches? Doesn’t this represent excessive reverence for stone images? I have seen many do this even during Mass.

A: Lighting candles as a symbol of prayer has a long tradition in the Church. Interestingly, the secular world has taken up the practice when a tragic event occurs.

It is commendable for the faithful to make intercession to God through one of the saints and to light a candle before an image of the saint as a tangible symbol of their prayer. They are reverencing God who has worked wonders in one of us, not the stone image.

If someone is paying a brief visit to a church for prayer and not participating in Mass, there is no harm in their stopping to say a prayer and lighting a candle. To ensure that this does not cause disruption to liturgical celebrations taking place in the worship space, images of the saints should be placed in separate chapels.

The Second Vatican Council put popular devotions such as this in the context of public worship: "Popular devotions of the Christian people are to be highly commended, provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church. These devotions should harmonise with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some fashion derived from it, and lead the people to it, since, in fact, the liturgy by its very nature far surpasses any of them." (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy #13)

Blessing oneself after receiving Communion

Q: Some people in my parish started making the sign of the cross on themselves after receiving Communion and others are now copying them. Is it what we are supposed to do or not?

A: The sign of the cross is reserved for blessing oneself with holy water on entering the church and at the beginning and end of Mass.

After receiving Communion, hands that have touched the Body of Christ should be clasped together reverently, not be making the sign of the cross.

Paragraph 160 of the official General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it very clear that the sign of reverence for the sacred elements is a bow that is made as communicants approach the ministers distributing Communion: “When approaching to receive Holy Communion, the faithful bow in reverence of the Mystery that they are to receive”.  Communicants are to make a simple bow of the head when they step forward to receive the consecrated elements from the minister. Such a bow can be done simply, without disrupting the flow of the Communion Procession.

The aim of introducing the instruction about bowing before receiving Communion was to stop people doing their own thing like genuflecting and making the sign of the cross. We all do the same thing at Communion, because Communion makes us One Body in Christ and we are all the same in the eyes of God. We should do nothing that sets us apart from others.

Elizabeth Harrington