Votive Candles - Encouraging Times Of Prayer

Burning candles might seem a strange practice to some, however the custom among Catholics has deep religious roots and offers thoughtful significance.  Whether at church or at home, a burning candle can have meaningful spiritual symbolism.

Candles … Offering Light
The primary quality of a candle is the light it exudes; if it were not for the light, candles would have little use.  Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible offer numerous verses presenting light as goodness, hope, life, truth, and the Lord (and conversely, there are many verses comparing darkness to chaos, death, and despair).  So, in a biblical sense, light is a good and holy symbol. 

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw how good the light was.”    
~ Genesis 1:3-4a

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear?    
~ Psalm 27:1a

I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.
~ John 12:46

 Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.  
~ Ephesians 5:8b-9

Candles - Instruments to Inspire Prayer and Trust in God
While the candle itself is not an object to be worshiped, it is an entity that can bring a bit of light and a reminder of things good and blessed.  One common custom among Catholics is to burn a candle while praying for a special intention … to help create an atmosphere of reverence during the time of holy supplication.  The burning votive candles can help people recall their prayer and prompt them to spend more time in prayer.  Votive candles can also be a visible reminder for the faithful to trust in God.  Some might say that the light from the flame can remind people of the brilliance and intensity of God’s love.  The warmth and power of the flame can evoke His goodness and supremacy. 

Saint Votive Candles
In many regions, candles decorated with images of saints can be purchased pretty easily … at grocery stores, drug stores, or other places of convenient shopping.  Because Catholics believe that saints can pray for us, sometimes these saint-inspired candles are used to help us to remember to ask a saint now and then to pray for our worries or needs.  These saints - like the candles they are pictured on - can offer another sort of illumination to our lives - through their examples of holy living.  Just a few examples:

·        Saint Joseph – the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus.  Sometimes St. Joseph is asked for prayers in buying or selling a home, due to the times he had to move his family about (Matthew 1 and 2).  He is also a patron saint of fathers.

·        Saint Martha – the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany.  Many recollect her story of feeling stressed out over housework (Luke 10:38-42) and therefore is turned to by many women who feel burdened by their many duties. 

·        Jesus Crucified – Many candles depict Jesus at His crucifixion, illustrating the sacrifice he made for mankind.  Some of the Crucified Jesus depictions include smaller additional symbols:  the cock that crowed after Peter’s third denial, the sponge attached to a stick used to give Jesus wine, the ladder used by Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus down from the cross, and more.  Pondering these extra details on Crucifixion candles can be a unique way to review Christ’s Passion.

·        Saint Jude – Most St. Jude candles portray this apostle with a flame resting above his head to symbolize his presence at the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:3), and as holding a medallion of Christ by his heart.  Though St. Jude was seemingly one of the quieter apostles, his prayers are often requested during times of desperate distress.

·        Saint Martin Caballero – also known as St. Martin of Tours; who lived in the 300s.  He was a Roman officer who embraced the tenets of Christianity.  St. Martin once happened upon a poorly clothed, destitute man; Martin’s heart stirred and he took off his military cloak, sliced it in half with his sword and give one half to the poor man.

·        Our Lady of Guadalupe – a very popular image in the southwest U.S. and Mexico.  Our Lady of Guadalupe represents the time in 1531 when Mary appeared to the poor Indian, Juan Diego, in Mexico and miraculously imprinted her image on his cloak. 

Prayers, Not Magic
Unfortunately, some purchase and light these votive candles hoping for some magical luck.  The Catholic point, however, is to use them as reminders … reminders of hope, life, goodness, the burning love God has for us, saints in heaven, and to nudge us into times of contemplation and prayer.


Resources:
Ask a Catholic.  Candles.  Retrieved May 19, 2012 from www.cptryon.org/ask/ask/candles.html.

Catholic Saints.  Candles a Christian Symbol.  Retrieved May 23, 2012 from www.catholic-saints.info/catholic-symbols/candles-christian-symbols.htm.

Cunial, Hector, Imprimatur.  The New World Dictionary Concordance to the New American Bible.  Charlotte, North Carolina: C.D. Stampley Enterprises, Inc., 1970.

Fisheaters.  Fire.  Retrieved May 19, 2012 from www.fisheaters.com/fire.html.

New American Bible for Catholics, The.  Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1991.

New Advent.  St. Martin of Tours.  Retrieved May 25, 2012, from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09732b.htm.

Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Saint Juan Diego: A Model of Humility.  Retrieved May 30, 2012 from http://www.sancta.org/juandiego.html.

Saunders, Fr. William.  Catholic Education.  The History of Votive Candles.  Retrieved May 19, 2012 from www.catholiceducation.org/articles/printarticle.html?id=2996.

Taylor, Richard.  How to Read a Church.  Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring/Paulist Press, 2005.