The Easter Candle

Christ our Light

DID you watch the annual TV screening of Cecil B. de Mille’s “The Ten Commandments”on Good Friday? Still spectacular after all these years, especially now that is has been digitally remastered. The pillar of fire, which leads the children of Israel out of Egypt and through the desert wilderness to freedom in a land flowing with milk and honey, is one of the more memorable special effects in the film.
At the Easter vigil our own pillar of fire, the paschal candle, leads us as children of God who have been freed from sin out of the darkness of the night and into the light of God’s house. After the scripture readings, this same central symbol of Easter leads those who have been chosen for the sacraments of new life to the baptismal font.
The paschal candle makes our experience of the light of Christ a vivid one by appealing to our senses of sight, smell and touch. We see the imposing candle with its special markings and steady light leading the procession into the church; we smell the burning beeswax; we feel the warmth of its flame.
The Easter candle needs to be large and dignified enough to be a sign of all that is meant when the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are inscribed on its surface with the words:
“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 and for ever. Amen.”
This text is derived from the final chapter of the book of Revelation where Jesus proclaims: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (22:13)
By marking the current year on the candle, the community brings its fleeting moment of history into the enduring presence of the One who transcends all time.
Five grains of incense are traditionally pressed into the candle at the extremities of the cross to represent the wounds in Christ’s head, hands, feet and side. Standing in the church during the 50 days of Easter, the candle thus remind us of how Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, showing them the wounds on his body.
It was the custom once to extinguish and remove the Easter candle after the reading of the gospel on the feast of the Ascension. Now it is kept in the sanctuary until the end of Pentecost Sunday. This makes it clear that it is Christ, whose presence the candle signifies, who bestows the Spirit.
Those baptised at the Easter vigil are immersed into the death and resurrection of Christ. Placing the paschal candle in the baptistry at the end of the Easter season serves to connect all baptisms during the rest of the year with the Easter event. The candle also sheds its light over the body of the deceased at the funeral liturgy, thus reinforcing the paschal character of Christian death.
“May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” (Service of Light, Easter Vigil)

Elizabeth Harrington