Candles in Christianity
It is quite possible that the early Christians in Rome copied the sacred fire of Vesta's temple as they set up and elaborated the ceremonies of their new religion. In Christianity, the candle represents the seven gifts of the holy spirit, which are: counsel, knowledge, peace, piety, strength, understanding, and wisdom. It also is considered a symbol of Christ's dual nature, part human, part divine. The earliest evidence of a continuous light burning before a tabernacle is from the early thirteenth century, when the bishop of Worcester declared that “a lamp must burn day and night before the Eucharist.” Candles in churches served a more mundane purpose as well — that of illuminating the dark, dank churches that were often made out of stone, and for lighting functions celebrated at night.Catholic Rituals Involving Candles
From baptisms to the blessing of an elderly person through the Anointing of the Sick, the use of candles by Catholics has been a vital aspect of the liturgy and the sacraments since the Church's earliest years.
For mystical reasons, the Church prescribes that the candles used at Mass and at other liturgical functions be made of beeswax [because] the pure wax extracted by bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His virgin Mother, the wick signifies the soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity. Although the two latter properties are found in all kinds of candles, the first is proper of beeswax candles only.
Candles were used for the Lucenarium, the second-century ceremonial light for evening prayer, which was the precursor to the Paschal Candle. Candles were also held aloft during funeral processions. During the third century, they were burned at the tombs of the dead — especially those who died as martyrs. During the fourth and fifth centuries, sacred images, especially of the Virgin Mary, always had candles burning before them, as did the tombs that held relics of saints.Candles in the Catholic Mass
Candles were not used at Mass until the seventh century, when they were carried by monks and priests in the procession to the altar; carried for the Gospel; and placed around the altar during the Mass. But it was not until the eleventh century that candles were put on the altar itself. Paintings from the medieval period show the Mass in progress without candles on the altar. Beginning with the thirteenth century, it was essential for the parish clerk, an assistant priest, or an altar boy to hold up a lighted candle when the officiating priest elevated the host before the congregation. In Catholic churches today, there are always banks of votive candles in red glass cups which a worshipper can light after dropping a few coins in a collection box.Advent Prayer
Several religious feasts have candles as their primary sacramental, not merely as an adjunct. The most important of these is Advent, which is marked by the lighting of a wreath with four candles. After the candles are lighted, this prayer is recited:
The burning candle is a common symbol of the soul of the individual, of the relationship between the spiritual (the flame) and the material (the wax). The flame is representative of the soul's eternal nature (as is the sun) and the wax is symbolic of the material body, which is consumed by the flame as age consumes the physical body. Thus, the candle as it burns down is symbolically compared to the transitory nature of human life.