ROME, 27 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
During Easter season at the reading of the Gospel at Mass on
Sundays, are the ministers dispensed from carrying lit candles
to the ambo if there is an Easter candle?
F.A., Rio de Mouro, Portugal
A: In principle, there is no such "dispensation" except
during the Easter Vigil itself, because on this night the Easter
candle itself suffices to honor the risen Lord in his Gospel.
The fact that the liturgical books specify that on this night
Gospel candles are not used implies that they should be used on
all other solemn occasions. At the same time, we recall that
these candles, like incense, are recommended but not obligatory
elements of the celebration of Mass and may be omitted.
During the rest of Eastertide the Easter candle and those
that accompany the Gospel have different symbolic values.
The Easter candle represents the risen Christ and, while it
is often placed near the ambo, this is not the only possibility.
The other possibilities are at the center of the sanctuary or
next to the altar. Because of this, the Easter candle is not
necessarily or primarily associated with the Gospel.
The candles that accompany the Gospel are a means of honoring
and emphasizing the particular centrality of the Gospel in
salvation history and as the high point of the Liturgy of the
As the Second Vatican Council's dogmatic constitution Dei
Verbum points out, these liturgical honors also establish a
certain parallel with the honors attributed to the Blessed
Sacrament, which is also accompanied by lighted torches and
incense. This serves to underline the particular real presence
of Christ in the liturgical proclamation of the Word, though
without detriment to the unique nature of the substantial real
presence of the Eucharist.
* * *
Follow-up: Candles at the Gospel Reading [5-11-2010]
After our reply regarding the Easter candle (see April 27), a
couple of similar questions came to mind.
A reader from Hawarden, North Wales, asked: "I wonder if you can
help. Some eccentric, but at least semiofficial, instruction
came our way some years ago, that after the feast of the
Ascension the paschal candle was to be extinguished but left in
the sanctuary until after Pentecost Sunday (when, naturally it
was to retire to the baptistry). Is it obligatory to have it
unlit during the great novena to the Holy Spirit?"
In our column of April 3, 2007, we gave a brief history of the
Easter candle. In that column we mentioned that effectively
there was a long-standing custom of removing the Easter candle
after the Ascension. A rubric introduced by St. Pius V for that
day indicated that the candle should be quenched after the
Gospel of the principal Mass.
This rubric, still in force in the extraordinary form, is
probably the inspiration for the semiofficial indication
received by our reader.
Present norms, however, foresee the habitual use of the paschal
candle for the entire Easter season until the final Mass of
Pentecost, after which it is brought to the baptistry.
Another correspondent, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, presented the
following case: Our liturgy coordinator is insisting that the
Easter candle be lit at all Masses during the month of November.
Is this permissible, since it is outside of the Easter season?"
I would imagine that the coordinator's logic derives from the
fact that in many places the entire month of November is
dedicated to special Masses and prayers for the deceased. Since
the Easter candle is used at funerals, then it would appear
coherent to use it during this time also.
However, the use of the Easter candle near the coffin at
funerals has a precise ritual meaning with respect to bodily
resurrection that is not found in Masses in suffrage for the
departed. Otherwise, the candle would be used almost every day,
as most Masses are celebrated for the benefit of some deceased
Even if the November Masses use the specific formulas of Masses
for the dead and violet vestments, they would not be funeral
Masses as such and so the paschal candle is not used.
Although I am unaware of the practice elsewhere, it is always
possible that this use of the Easter candle is a long-standing
custom of a particular church. Liturgically speaking, however,
it is somewhat anomalous and I do not think it is a correct use
of the Easter candle's symbolic meaning.