This candle is called the paschal candle. If you attended the Easter Vigil, you heard the priest sing “The light of Christ!” three times as he entered the church holding high the candle, lit from the new fire which was blest. He was announcing the coming of Christ and the light that he brought and continues to bring into the world.
Therefore, this candle continues to glow in the sanctuary at every Mass throughout the Easter season, that is, during the 50 days of Easter from Easter to Pentecost as a reminder of the paschal mystery.
What do we mean by the paschal mystery? The word “paschal” comes from the Hebrew for Passover. Jews celebrate their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt, their Passover from suffering to the promised land.
The Passover meal with an unblemished lamb sacrificed and eaten, according to God’s instructions in the Book of Exodus, is accompanied by the recitation of this deliverance.
THE PASCHAL LAMB
So, Christians too celebrate their redemption and that of the whole cosmos by the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ who often is referred to as the paschal lamb.
Christians believe that the original Passover pre-figured Jesus’ “passover” from human life, suffering and death to new life of glory in God. Since Jesus died during the Passover, Easter celebrates the mysteries of our salvation.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all seem to indicate that the Last Supper was the Passover meal. This meal today continues to bring Christ to us in a real and dynamic way at every Eucharistic celebration.
The paschal candle has grains of incense embedded in it in the form of a cross. They represent the five major wounds Jesus suffered when he was crucified.
In each of the four arms of the cross, a digit is placed which indicates the present year.
At the top of the candle is the alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and at the bottom, the omega, the last letter to show that Christ is the beginning and end of all existence.
After Pentecost, this candle is placed by the baptismal font and is lit for Baptisms and funerals.
Thus it serves as a constant reminder that Christ continues to be present to us from birth to death bringing his light and grace into our lives.
Easter isn’t just for a day. It isn’t just for Paschaltide, the 50 days of Easter. It isn’t just for a year or two.
It’s for a lifetime of faith-filled living and giving.
Jesus gave his life freely and willingly saying to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18.11).
We Christians have chosen to follow Christ freely and gladly. We have chosen to witness Christ’s message of peace, hope and joy to the world.
This candle continues to make visible the commitment that Christians have made to live the paschal mystery every day of our lives in our relationships and our work, in our sorrow and joy, in our successes and failures, in our self-sacrificing service of Christ in his people.
SPREAD THE LIGHT
Sunday after Sunday, as we walk into the church past the baptismal font, the paschal candle calls us forth to live out that commitment and spread its light, the light of Christ, to the world.
Then with Paul, we can say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”