2022 Grateful 17: Candles

The price of church candles is spiralling, like most things. Gone are the days when 20 cents would get you a tealight, the flames of which would carry your prayers to heaven. Nowadays, you’re looking at minimum 50 cents and, sometimes, even €2.

That said, it’s getting harder to find churches that still have candles to light. I loathe the electric ones. Cleaner maybe, but not nearly the same.

Usually, when I visit a church I light three candles – my stalwarts. But lately, my candle list is growing at an alarming rate. I seem to be of an age where bad things happen more frequently than before.

In the last two weeks, I got word that two former colleagues had died. They inhabited different chapters in previous lives and had left their imprint on my life. Both were around my age, give or take a few years. One lost a battle with cancer; the other had a heart attack, which was a blessing really as they were facing a nasty end. Two other friends recently had successful brain ops to remove tumours. Two more are waiting for biopsy results. One friend’s father suddenly died and another friend’s new grandchild didn’t make it through the month. Then there are recent diagnoses of acute and chronic illness. There seems to be no end to it all.

While there are five types of candles you can light – affirmation, prayer, blessing, gratitude, and meditation – mine are mostly prayer and gratitude; perhaps I need to concentrate more on affirmations.

Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, the symbolism of the votive candles was elaborated. St. Radegund (d. 587) described a practice whereby a person would light a candle or several candles which equaled his own height; this was called “measuring to” such a saint. Although it may seem peculiar to us, this “measuring” actually reflects the idea of the candle representing the person in faith who has come into the light to offer his prayer.

Also, some Medieval spiritual writers expanded the imagery of the candle itself: beeswax symbolized the purity of Christ; the wick, the human soul of Christ; and the light, His divinity. Also, the burning candle symbolized a sacrifice, which is made in both the offering of the prayer and the acceptance of the Lord’s will.

Growing up in Ireland, come exam time, the churches would be ablaze with grannies lighting candles for grandchildren. It was as if the candle alone was enough to get you through the exams and get the result you wanted. Now that the Leaving Cert results are out, no doubt those same grannies will be lighting candles in gratitude.

I’m nearly at the point where I’m lighting just the one candle for everyone I know who is sick in heart, body, or soul. Nearly. But not quite. I can’t quite bring myself to utter the blanket prayer or light the umbrella candle. I’ll hang on a little longer; maybe the tide will turn.

In grateful memory of LC and KH. May your light keep shining.


2 Responses

  1. I’m sorry you’re experiencing so much loss Mary. Thank you for putting your heartfelt thoughts out into the world.

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