When I was growing up there were churches with those big banks of candles against one of the walls. I saw mom light one once, but I was far too young to remember much of it. I recently saw one such bank at a shrine. I wanted to explain it to my daughter who was with me, but I found myself clueless.
Could someone please explain the candle thing? Both the spiritual significance (i.e., what does it mean to light one of those candles? Why do many Catholics do it?) and practical considerations (i.e. the proper etiquette and procedure for lighting one. isn’t there some sort of money involved?).
Actually, I believe it is to leave your prayer there burning before God, sometimes you may ask a certain Saints intercession too, sometimes the Blessed Mother’s or St. Josephs’s for example, the money is to go toward the upkeep, for the candles, matchsticks, etc…I think it depends upon the size of the candle that you light for the amount of money that you would donate, a very small tea light candle I would imagine a dollar would do, for some of the larger one’s I would give five to ten dollars depending on their size, nothing is free for anyone, not even the Church that has to buy them from a supplier.
"When you enter a Catholic church, you might see a shrine, small side chapels or side altars with statues or icons and rows of votive candles. The word “votive” comes from the Latin “votum” meaning “vow,” and these candles (which aren’t blessed and usually aren’t made of beeswax) are, when lit, used to symbolize our prayers, vows of prayer, or simply our honoring God or one of His Saints. They are lit by the people outside of Mass (before or after, or during simple visits to a church) – usually for a specific intention. It’s a very Catholic thing to say to someone that you will “light a candle for them,” meaning that you will pray for them and ritually symbolize those prayers by the lighting of votives. It’s not uncommon, too, to find these intentions written out and placed near the candles. Another common reason to light votive candles is out of gratitude to God for answered prayers.
We light the candle while praying for our intention or offering our thanks and then leave the flame burning as signs of our prayers. You might see a little coin box or basket nearby for donations to pay for the candles. If you’re truly poor, don’t worry about it! But if you are able, it is right to drop in a dollar or two to offset the costs.
Catholic families make use of votive candles at home, too, especially at family altars and, of course, during the Advent and Christmas Seasons with their respective Candles, and on Easter Sunday with its white Christ Candle symbolizing His divinity. "
I visited the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio Wednesday and all the candles were already lit. And I realized I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of candles in any Catholic Church where they weren’t already lit. I’ve seen signs that candles were available in the church office or gift shop, but I’ve never been able to get them there in the church, nor have I ever gotten to light one, though I’ve often wanted to.
I was told that lighting votive candles is a way of asking other people in the church to pray for you- and of course, to symbolize your own prayers rising to God. I always pray for the intentions of those who lit votive candles when I am at church.
The regular donation is about a dollar but there is no actual suggestion as to the donation and no box to put it in. Rather, there is a sign asking people to either place their donations in the collection at Sunday mass or bring it to the parish office.
When I light a candle, I’ll light the match from the candle which looks most likely to burn out first and ask for that person’s intentions to be added to my own. I don’t know where I got this idea, if someone told me or if it is a custom I gleaned from someone else, but I like the idea just the same.
The flame of the candle represents the Holy Spirit (which is why candles are lit for Mass), and of course, ongoing prayer. Even when we are silent, the flame still burns and our prayers are still remembered and lifted towards heaven.
It also symbolizes the light of Christ…light in a world of darkness.
the usual practice in a shrine or pilgrimage site like this, or even a parish church, is to purchase a candle from the office or gift shop, take it to the candle room and light it, then say your prayer, leaving the lit candle as a sign of your prayer rising to heaven. the older practice was to make a donation and light candles already there, but doing it this way does away with the implication that you are buying a prayer (instead of buying a candle). The big ones usually cost about $2, which reflects our cost in buying candles that are safe - proper wicks and wax and proper glass container to comply with fire safety rules.
By the way, those pillar candles in glass containers with laminated pictures of Jesus, saints etc. you often seen in grocery or variety stores, especially in Hispanic neighborhoods, are most often NOT safe to use because of bubbles in the wax, lead in the wicks, wicks misplaced, and glass that can shatter easily if overheated. They are banned in most churches and shrines for this reason, which is why you are required to buy the candle from them.
Now comes the “corruption” from my years studying religion at a Baptist university…
What’s the point? Okay–it’s a sign of our prayers rising towards Heaven. A sign for whom? God already knows our prayer, and surely we have faith enough to believe that He gets our prayers even without the candle. And surely we’re not trying to be “spiritual exhibitionists” and showing off for our neighbors. And we surely don’t superstitiously believe that the candle has some magical power that will cause our prayer to be answered when it otherwise wouldn’t be. So why?
There’s a seed of an answer in the back of my mind that maybe we do it do make ourselves feel better… sort of a physical focus of the spiritual desire… Like I said–it’s a seed that I can’t quite germinate into a full answer.
I think the seed of your answer is right. I’m going to try to help it germinate into a full answer, although my efforts may or may not be successful.
We are creatures of both body and soul. God relates to us on our level. That’s one reason why we have Sacraments, which use physical signs to symbolize (and bring about) certain grace in our lives. That’s why it helps to have stained glass windows in churches to call our minds to the realities conveyed in the picture. We are not Gnostics who believe that physical reality is evil or only serves as a hindrance to spiritual reality. After all, our whole faith is based in the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. As such, we have (or should have) a healthy understanding of our own nature as enfleshed spirits. Sometimes, having a physical sign helps us to really grasp and experience the spiritual realities.
Now, if someone really did think that their prayer would not be heard if they did not light a candle, or that their prayer would stop being heard when the candle went out, that would be superstition and would not be an appropriate perspective on the importance of the candles.
Another way I think about it is that I can always pray for an intention, but when I make a donation and light a candle, I am actually giving something up (even if it’s only a few dollars). We know that our sacrifices, even the small ones, mean a lot to God, and that they can be very effective when offered up in and as prayer.
My Grandma taught me a prayer to say when lighting a candle, it went something like this: Father I have to leave now so I leave this candle in my stead.
Sadly they have done away with this practice at my parish, please light a candle for me.
Some churches and shrines have done away with candles all together. They are now electric with a push button. The donation helps defray the cost of electricity. These make sense, esp. in churches or shrines in big cities with a lot of foot traffic. I guess they also save on insurance costs.
In our parish, one puts the money and/ or prayer in an envelope. The “altar ladies” put out the required number of candles every day or week and lights 'em up. They are real candles, though.
I have an answer for this from “The Catholic Sourcebook”, which is a type of Catholic encyclopedia. Full of good info.
"Often blessed on Candlemas Day, candles for home use borrow symbolism from all the candles used in church and liturgy and bring it into the domestic Church of the home. Faitn in things unseen can be bolstered by thing seen-like a burning candle. Especially during a storn (including those within), forgetfulness of the Guardian threatens heart and home. And so poopular piety would light a candle–blessed at Candlemas, of course–for protection, if not from the storm, then at least from the thunder and lightning of fear itself.
“Several centuries ago in Irelan, during the suppression of Catholicism by the English persecution, priests were driven to visiting homes in secret, where the Eucharist could be celebrated at night. At Christmas time, the Catholic families would leave their doors unlocked and put candles in the windows to guide priests to their homes. Any soldiers noticing open door and lit candles were simply told it was to welcome Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve. The signal remained, as the soldiers dismissed the story as harmless superstition.” p322, Chaper 5
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