Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

For mystical reasons the Church prescribes that the candles used at Mass and at other liturgical functions be made of beeswax ( luminaria cerea. -- Missale Rom., De Defectibus, X, I; Cong. Sac. Rites, 4 September, 1875). The pure wax extracted by bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother, the wick signifies the soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity. Although the two latter properties are found in all kinds of candles, the first is proper of beeswax candles only. It is, however, not necessary that they be made of beeswax without any admixture. The paschal candle and the two candles used at Mass should be made ex cera apum saltem in maxima parte , but the other candles in majori vel notabili quantitate ex eadem cera (Cong. Sac. Rit., 14 December, 1904). As a rule they should be of white bleached wax, but at funerals, at the office of Tenebrae in Holy Week, and at the Mass of the Presanctified, on Good Friday, they should be of yellow unbleached wax (Caerem. Episc.). De Herdt (I, no. 183, Resp. 2) says that unbleached wax candles should be used during Advent and Lent except on feasts, solemnities, and especially during the exposition and procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Candles made wholly of any other material, such as tallow (Cong. Sac. Rit., 10 December, 1857) stearine (Cong. Sac. Rit., 4 September, 1875), paraffin, etc., are forbidden. The Cong. Sac. Rit. (7 September, 1850) made an exception for the missionaries of Oceania, who, on account of the impossibility of obtaining wax candles, are allowed to use sperm-whale candles. Without an Apostolic indult it is not allowable, and it constitutes a grievous offense to celebrate Mass without any light (Cong. Sac. Rit., 7 September, 1850), even for the purpose of giving Holy Viaticum, or of enabling the people to comply with their duty of assisting at Mass on Sundays and holy days (St. Lig., bk. VI, n. 394). In these, and similar cases of necessity it is the common opinion that Mass may be celebrated with tallow candles or oil lamps (ibid.). It is not permitted to begin Mass before the candles are lighted, nor are they to be extinguished until the end of Mass. If the candles go out before the Consecration, and cannot be again lighted, most authors say that Mass should be discontinued; if this happens after the Consecration, Mass should not be interrupted, although some authors say that if they can possibly be lighted again within fifteen minutes the celebrant ought to interrupt Mass for this space of time (ibid.) If only one rubrical candle can be had, Mass may be celebrated even ex devotione (ibid).

Number of Candles at Mass

(1) At a pontifical high Mass, celebrated by the ordinary, seven candles are lighted. The seventh candle should be somewhat higher than the others, and should be placed at the middle of the altar in line with the other six. For this reason the altar crucifix is moved forward a little. In Requiem Masses, and at other liturgical services. e.g. Vespers, the seventh candle is not used. If the bishop celebrate outside his diocese. or if he be the administrator, auxiliary, or coadjutor, the seventh candle is not lighted.

(2) At a solemn high Mass, i.e. when the celebrant is assisted by a deacon and subdeacon, six candles are lighted. This is not expressly prescribed by the rubrics, but merely deduced from the rubric describing the manner of incensing the altar (Ritus celebrandi Missam, tit. iv, n. 4), which says that the celebrant incenses both sides of the altar with three swings of the censer prout distribuuntur candelabra.

(3) At a high Mass ( missa cantata ), which is celebrated without the assistance of deacon and subdeacon, at least four candles are required (Cong. Sac. Rit., 12 August, 1854), although six may be lighted. At these Masses under (l), (2), (3), the two lighted candles prescribed by the Missal (Rubr. XX) to be placed one on each side of the cross, are not necessary (Cong. Sac. Rit., 5 December, 1891).

(4) At low Mass celebrated by any bishop, four candles are usually lighted, although the "Caeremoniale Episcoporum" (I, cap. xxix, n. 4) prescribes this number only for the more solemn feasts, and two on feasts of lower rite.

(5) At a strictly low Mass celebrated by any priest inferior to a bishop, whatever be his dignity, only two candles may be used.

(6) In a not strictly low Mass, i.e. in a parochial or community Mass on more solemn feasts or the Mass which is said instead of a solemn or high Mass on the occasion of a great solemnity (Cong. Sac. Rit., 12 September, 1857), when celebrated by a priest more than two candles, and when celebrated by a bishop more than four candles may be used.

At all functions throughout the year except on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, before the Mass bishops are allowed the use of the bugia or hand-candlestick. The use of the bugia is not permitted to priests, whatever be their dignity, unless it be granted by an Apostolic privilege either personal, or by reason of their being curial dignitaries. If, on account of darkness a priest stands in need of a light near the Missal he may use a candle, but the candlestick on which it is fastened cannot have the form of the bugia (Cong. Sac. Rit., 31 May, 1817). An oil lamp can never be used for this purpose (Cong. Sac. Rit., 20 June, 1899). At the Forty Hours Devotion at least twenty candles should burn continuously (Instructio Clementina, section 6); at other public expositions of the Blessed Sacrament at least five (Cong. Sac. Rit., 8 February, 1879); at the private exposition, at least six (Cong. Episc. et Reg., 9 December, 1602). The only blessings at which lighted candles are prescribed are:


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Isaiah 55:6-9
6 Seek out Yahweh while he is still to be found, call ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
2 Day after day I shall bless you, I shall praise ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 20:1-16
1 'Now the kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner ... Read More

Reading 2, Philippians 1:20-24, 27
20 all in accordance with my most confident hope and ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 21st, 2014 Image

St. Matthew
September 21: St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter