The Light of the World
Making a Paschal Candle
by Gwen D. Wise
used with permission.
A Paschal candle can enrich your family's observance of the Easter season, by bringing the 'light of the world' into your home in a concrete way. The candle should have a place of honour in your home, on a family prayer altar or on the table for all meals, replacing the palms that lay there during Holy Week.
The "Catholic Source Book" explains: 'A prime Christ and Easter symbol; [it] remains lit, from its enthronement during the Easter Vigil throughout "The Great Feast" (the fifty days of Easter) until it is extinguished and transferred to a less prominent, though visible, place on Pentecost. Thereafter, it is used for its resurrection symbolism at baptisms and funerals.'
Mary Reed Newland's "The Year and Our Children" recommends: 'We must plan time together in the evenings in order to prepare the candle and discuss the doctrine relating to these symbols. It is a fruitful work and truly beautiful when finished. It is saved for Easter morning when the first child downstairs, claims the privilege of lighting the Paschal candle after the others have gathered.'
Here are the instructions for making the Paschal candle. If you make one, try to attend the Easter Vigil and bring home the blessed fire (you can get it from the Paschal candle at church after Mass by lighting a candle from its flame) to light your candle with. You can also do this on Easter morning.
(Editors Note: A safe way to carry the flame home - stick a candle to the bottom of a glass jar with melted wax. The jar needs to be taller than the candle. Light this candle with a taper, and when home, light your Paschal candle from it.)
Start with a tall pillar candle. Try to find a liturgical candle of more than 51% beeswax in a religious goods store, or make your own. Decorate it with symbols, beginning with a cross.
More from the "Catholic Source Book":
- " Stress the Christ Candle's dignity and significance by decorating it with a cross ('Christ yesterday and today the beginning and the end'),
- the Greek alpha and omega,
- and the numerals of the current year ('...all time belongs to him and all the ages to him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.')"
The alpha and omega go on the vertical bar of the cross and the numerals fit in the four corners.
In "The Year and Our Children" Newland suggests carving the designs into the candle and painting them with red oil paint. Another ways to decorate the candle include glueing paper pictures onto it with melted wax, and using small beads, sequins, coloured eggshell bits or other materials stuck into the candle to create a mosiac.
When the cross is complete, add other symbols of Redemption and Resurrection such as:
- the lamb with a victory banner,
- dolphin (ancient symbol of Redemption),
- grapes and wheat,
- peacock (glorious life of Resurrection is represented in the glorious fan tail of the peacock),
- phoenix rising from ashes.
You may know of others or find them in another resource or on the web.
Finally, place incense in the four corners and the center of the cross with the prayer 'By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us. Amen'.
Newland suggests we use cloves for fragrance. They also look like nails. The cloves are "a symbol, when burned, of the zeal of the faithful; by its fragrance, of the odor of Christian virtue; by its smoke, of the ascent of the prayer of the faithful to the throne of God." To insert them, poke the candle with a hot skewer then insert the clove.
When the candle is decorated and everyone is satisfied with the way it looks and the symbols chosen, ask your priest to bless it.
The "Catholic Source Book" is edited by Rev. Peter Klein and published by Brown-Roa (a division of Harcourt Brace & Co), Dubuque, Iowa. "The Year and Our Children" is written by Mary Reed Newland and published by The Firefly Press.