Why are prayer candles used

The meaning of candlelight
today, yesterday and tomorrow

Even in the age of neon light and laser beams, candlelight is enjoying great, even growing, popularity. Even if the electric light enables us to turn night into day, there will still be only a few households in our latitudes that do not have any candles at home. Everywhere we find candles in the most varied of colors, shapes and sizes, and the question arises as to why this is so, because candlelight is hardly important as a means of lighting, unless in an emergency. Are candles lit for reasons of nostalgia or sentimentality?
Every now and then this may certainly resonate, but it is certain that many people, be it at a festive table or in a contemplative discussion group, enjoy the mild light of a burning candle. Their light is able to strongly shape the respective atmosphere and to put the people who have the light in front of their eyes in a special mood. The following conclusion even seems justified: The more hectic, automated and therefore impersonal our environment becomes, the stronger the preference for candles and the aura that they exude.

The candle also has a special meaning in the liturgy of the Church. Candles are lit at the altar at every Mass and we meet them again and again during the church year; Examples are the Advent wreath with its four candles, the light measuring candles, the Easter candle, the candle for first communion or the candles on the altar of Mary in May. One could prematurely conclude that the main task of the candles in the church is to put the faithful in the right mood. But this consideration is too superficial. She is in danger of degrading the burning of candles to showmanship.

In order to really grasp the meaning of the candle fire, we have to go back a little further: fire and light, like water, are among the primordial symbols of humanity. At all times the fire, which gave light and warmth, referred to the sun itself, which enables earthly life and growth.
Fire is the source of the light and warmth that we need to live. The idea of ​​eternal night and cold gives us an idea of ​​what ultimate death is. That is why for many religions fire was not only a symbol of the deity, but also essentially divine and therefore worthy of worship. However, fire was also experienced as a threatening natural force. It is irrepressible and, once ignited, knows no restrictions. But where the fire is tamed, it is experienced as a benefit and vitality. The light of a candle or oil lamp represents the "tamed" form of the fire and found its way into many religions and pagan cults. The use of candles was already widespread in the ancient pagan cult. For example, Cicero speaks of burning incense and candles in front of the idols. The church father Tertullian, who lived around the year 200, also reports of the pagan custom of lighting lamps in houses in honor of the gods. This was reason enough to keep the pagan use of candles away from the religious customs of Christians.
Nevertheless, by the fourth century, the custom of lighting candles on the graves of martyrs had become widespread among Christians, as many ancient texts show.
Vigilantius, a contemporary of St. Jerome, writes: "We see how almost pagan customs are introduced into the church under the pretext of worship. Whilst the sun is still shining, whole masses of candles are lit ... in this way People show high veneration for the holy martyrs. They believe that they have to illuminate them with cheap wax candles. "

At this time a symbolic use of light appears for the first time. The light should be a sign of joy. Obviously, such symbolic considerations influenced the splendid illumination of the churches, of which the sources of the 4th and 5th centuries report. Eusebius gives a description of the splendor of the lighting, which was especially displayed on Easter vigil: "He (Constantine) transformed the holy night into daylight by having men who had been ordered to light wax columns of enormous heights throughout the night. These were Fire torches that lit every place so that the mysterious night watch was brighter than the shining day. "

Not only on Easter vigil, but throughout the year, the candle was also of great importance as a means of lighting in churches. By the year 1000, candle chandeliers were common in churches. For example, two hanging lamps with a diameter of 7 meters each were purchased in Hildesheim Cathedral, each with a lower ring holding 72 candles.
However, the candle enjoyed its great popularity in church not so much because of its importance as a source of light, but rather because of its symbolism and symbolism. This is very important for the celebration of the liturgy, because the liturgy is essentially tied to external signs.
The people of earlier times were more familiar with symbolic and symbolic thinking. For them, for example, water was not just the chemical compound H2O, they saw more in it: life, growth, a gift from God and nature. Similarly, for them, candlelight was not only lighting in the dark, but also a reference to Christ:
The candle consumes itself in burning, like the candle, Christ consumed himself in his love for people. The medieval Dominican theologian Durandus writes: "The light that is kindled in the church means Christ." The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah: "On Jerusalem! Your light will come, and the glory of the Lord will arise on you."
In the New Testament, Simeon praises the Lord as "the light to enlighten the Gentiles." Christ the Lord calls himself "the light of the world." For the time being, light appears as the most suitable symbol of his deity. Because light appears to be the least material of all material things, it is considered a fitting symbol of God, the absolute spirit, whom the Scriptures designate as light, of whom it says that he is the source of all light clothed in light and in the inaccessible Light living.
The material light moves with almost unbelievable speed, is spotless and pure, penetrates everywhere in order to have an invigorating and transfigured effect, therefore also for this reason suitable for the symbolic representation of the omnipresent, all-animating, divine being.

The human nature of Christ sees the Middle Ages symbolized in the wax that serves as food for the flame of light. Just as pure beeswax comes from the bee, so the body of Christ emerged from the womb of the most blessed virgin.
This symbolic relationship of light to Christ explains the extensive use it has found in the Catholic Church over time. Lights emphasize the presence of Christ in the Most Holy Place and at the altar in the celebration of the Eucharist. When lights are lit when the sacraments are administered, they also remind of Christ, the invisible giver of grace, as well as the candles carried to the gospel during the solemn service to proclaim Christ as the "light of the world" and our joy at his revelation.
So far we have concentrated on the candle and its symbolic power in the liturgical process. But the meaning of the candle in the life of the Catholic Church is even more far-reaching.
To do this, we have to look back at church history: From the 10th century onwards, it had become customary to consecrate candles. This happened mainly on Candlemas, on February 2nd, or on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, as this feast day is called today in the official liturgical calendar. In addition to the natural symbolic power of light, the candles were given a special place in the piety of believers because of their blessing; This is expressed, for example, in the Blasius blessing, which is given with two crossed candles on the day after Candlemas.
The consecrated candle also became important in the private sphere of the family. She accompanied the believer through the church year. They were kindled in distress and adversity. So the consecrated candle gradually became a symbol of divine assistance - let's think, for example, of the weather candle that was lit in lightning and storms and pleaded for God's protection. The advent wreath with its candles also became more and more important in the Christian life of piety over time. It is not just a room decoration in the "pre-Christmas period", but a call for reflection and prayer in the weeks of Advent. This is expressed through the prayer that is said at the blessing of the Advent wreath and its candles. It shows us what believers see in the Advent candle. It reads: "God, you sent your Son into the world as light. Bless these candles." May they remind us of Jesus Christ in the days of Advent, who wants to enlighten everyone.
As we kindle a new light on this wreath every Sunday, let us grow in the love of Christ. Prepare to celebrate his birth and let us see his glory with grace and truth.

The many, often very elaborately made votive candles, donated by believers, especially at places of pilgrimage, also deserve attention. These candles were often staggering in size. For example, the largest candle in Andechs, a foundation from Augsburg pilgrims from 1727, is 2 meters 40 high and weighs 84 pounds. Such votive candles have been found in the pilgrimage church of St. Salvator in Bettbrunn near Ingolstadt since 1378. The oldest is from this year. Since then, over 200 such "large candles" have accumulated in the choir and new ones are added every year. With these candles, believers give thanks to God for answered supplications in need, danger or illness.

In addition to the positive suggestions for popular piety through the blessing of candles, there were also customs that can be attributed to superstition. To illustrate this: There was, for example, the custom of observing the flame of the wedding candle on the day of the wedding in order to make predictions about the future married life together. A bright, calm flame gave hope for a harmonious marriage. Flickering or crackling candlelight meant misfortune and strife. Sparks from the light measuring candle were good news for the family or announced a guest; wax running down suggested evil and death. Real candle oracles came about. In the Upper Palatinate there used to be a custom of lighting a consecrated candle for each family member on All Souls Day. Together they blew out all the candles. Whose wick then glowed the least long, it was assumed that he would have to die first. In other areas they made little boats with consecrated candles. Whose boat went down first should soon suffer misfortune. These few examples clearly show that the consecrated candles were misused here and became the object of superstition, since it was believed that the blessing prayer imparted miraculous powers to the candle. But we should not be arrogant and condescending about these customs in the past. In spite of these disapproving practices, those people undoubtedly lived in deep and firm faith.
In addition to these undesirable developments, there were also tendencies in a direction, in a certain sense opposite, which was particularly widespread in the ecclesiastical field in the rationalist thinking of the sixties and seventies of our century. Back then, some believed the candles in the church to be a holdover from the old days, which also comes from the pagan cult. "The candles in church give me nothing," was often judged. It was argued, "What I need for my life is the proclamation of the gospel of Christ. This alone can answer the pressing questions of my existence." Others said that one should save the amount for the candles and support those in need with the money. With all due respect for such opinions, however, one must ask whether those who think so are not subject to exaggerated purpose-oriented thinking.
Such exaggerated functionalist thinking does not do justice to the fullness of human reality, which knows the purposeless and the beautiful, love, praise and thanks. Rather, it should be our pleasure to light a candle at the appropriate hour.
This "anti-candlestick" attitude has "thank God" largely faded away. In the last few years you can even see more and more people lighting candles in church. There are many among them who you can tell that they are not often in the service, that they do it a little embarrassed.

So why is someone putting a candle and lighting it?
Perhaps because he feels that life is not exhausted in our business and worries, in our successes and diversions. Because there has to be a connection for a meaning, because one at least wishes and longs for life to be summed up in a sign like the candle.
That a light rises in the darkness, that it is the substance of my life that consumes itself in a light that makes it brighter and warmer. Certainly, the candle burns down as my life goes by, but it is in a place in the house of God that shows that it does not burn in vain, that everything has a greater meaning, is done in honor of someone higher.

Can I put something of myself, of my life in the candle?
I look at the flickering candles. I see a candle sink and the flame go out. And I know she's a little sign. I can't buy anything with the donated candle. But the little sign is comforting, maybe my life is not lost after all, maybe it shines for a secret meaning!
If you consider this deep symbolism of the candle, you will not be able to describe dummy candles as ideal in the liturgical context. Candles made from wax, which do not have to be questioned for reasons of room protection, as some church attendants claim due to soot deposits from the candle burn, would therefore be desirable and sensible. A number of experts found that it is not the sacrificial candles and sacrificial lights that are responsible for sooting the churches, but a whole range of possible causes must be considered:
Building physical conditions e.g. formation of condensate as a result of falling below the dew point, material moisture on the surfaces with increased dust binding.
Summer heat with absolutely high humidity.
Strong air exchange with the outside air through the doors and windows of the church.
Heavy visits to the church by believers, for example in unfavorable weather conditions, such as heavy rain and dirty streets, so that dirt and moisture are transported into the church interior on the shoes.
Some church rooms show extreme blackening all around or in certain areas, although a sacrificial table for the burning of sacrificial candles or candles was never used.

Also from the liturgical principle of authenticity, which played a major role in the liturgical reform, it is appropriate to use wax candles whenever possible.
The high symbolic meaning of the candle is an important task for us as a wax puller guild. Through the creative design of the candles by our members, we want to help to increase their symbolism in the religious area. The candles are designed by our members today in such a way that pastors and believers at baptism, first communion, marriage or on their deathbed are able to choose candles that lead to the content of their faith.


It goes back to the 6th century BC. At that time, wood and pine in bowls were soaked in oil. The Egyptians used castor oil and the Romans used tallow. It is believed that in pre-Christian antiquity lighting means were made by immersing a "funale" (= wick) in tallow. The word candle comes from the Latin "Cereus" (= wax light). Christianity and the development of its liturgical customs gave impetus to the rapid spread of the use of candles. For example, oblong-round candles with cotton wicks and candles for liturgical purposes have been identified with certainty since the second half of the 4th century AD. In the Middle Ages, beeswax was also used to make candles. However, since this raw material was very limited, it was reserved for the churches and rich royal houses to have candles made of beeswax. Tallow candles or so-called unschlitt candles were used in private households. They were made from beef kidney fat or mutton tallow, and accordingly smelled rancid, smoked and sooty. It was not until the end of the 15th century that beeswax also found its way into the parlor of wealthy town houses. Unfortunately, our forefathers did not know problem-free wax lights: The candles had to be constantly "blown", ie cleaned. This is what they called it back then when the burned-out wick was constantly shortened to reduce soot and dripping. In the last century, the candle raw materials paraffin and stearin were discovered, which today are mainly used alongside beeswax.During the same period of time, the wick was significantly improved, so that what Goethe wanted so badly could finally come true:
"I don't know what better way to invent than when the lights were on without cleaning"