Paschal candle symbolizes Christ



The Paschal candle represents Christ as the light of the world.

The Easter vigil service, which began at 8 p.m. Holy Saturday at St. Christine Church, used candles to underscore the significance.

“The service has roots in the Old Testament,” said the Rev. John Keehner, pastor. “A pillar of fire led the Israelites out of Egypt,” (Exodus 13:21-22).

St. Christine parishioners gathered on the portico, where a new fire was started and blessed. That fire was used to light the new Paschal candle, which also was blessed.

The sanctuary, changing from darkness to light, relates to “Jesus passing over from death to life,” Father Keehner said. “We are sharing His triumph over death and living with Him in God.” The Paschal candle is lighted for Easter season services and for baptisms and funerals throughout the year.

Previously, Father Keehner said, priests actually cut the symbols into the candle; now they trace over the designs already embedded on the candle. The vertical line signifies “Christ yesterday and today;” the horizontal line, “the beginning and end;” and the letters Alpha and Omega, the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet that designate God. The vertical and horizontal lines form a cross. One number of the current year, 2013, is written in each of the corners. “All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen” is recited.

Then, five grains of incense, representing nails that pierced Christ’s body, were pushed into the candle. “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us, Amen” was recited.

“Light of Christ” was chanted, and parishioners lighted smaller candles.

The Easter proclamation, Father Keehner said, is “The Exultet,” which takes its name from the first word, exult. He added that his favorite phrase from the proclamation highlights nature — “a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.”

Father Keehner said the Paschal candle would be plunged into the water of the baptismal font three times. “This demonstrates that through the water of baptism, we share in the Resurrection,” he said.

He also cited the analogy that Christ is the tree of life and the tree also is a symbol of the cross. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and Resurrection, Father Keehner continued, make it possible to go back to the Garden of Eden and share in the tree of life.

Other faith traditions also use the Paschal candle. The Rev. Nick Mager, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said the candle played a role in Maundy Thursday’s Tenebrae service, often called the service of shadows because candles are extinguished one by one. “We light the candle again on Easter Sunday, and it’s kept lighted through Ascension Day, May 9.” The day marks when Jesus ascended into heaven.

The Rev. Mr. Mager said he has incorporated the candle into services in the last three Presbyterian churches he has served. “I like the symbolism of the risen presence of Christ,” he said. “We’ll die in our earthly bodies but resurrect to be with God.”

Mr. Mager said the candle also is lighted at baptisms and funerals. For both services, he said, the candle represents how “we rise with Christ.”

The Rev. Paul Heine, pastor of Martin Luther Lutheran Church, said a Paschal candle would be lighted on Easter and remain so through Ascension Day. “It’s a symbol of the Resurrection and God’s light.”

The Lutheran church also uses the candle at baptisms and funerals. “The light of God is given to us at birth and at the baptism service,” he said. “At funerals, we remember not only the Resurrection of Jesus but of ourselves.”

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