Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

In the Old Testament God commanded that a lamp filled with the purest oil of olives should always burn in the Tabernacle of the Testimony without the veil ( Exodus 27:20, 21 ). The Church prescribes that at least one lamp should continually burn before the tabernacle (Rit. Rom. iv, 6), not only as an ornament of the altar, but for the purpose of worship. It is also a mark of honour. It is to remind the faithful of the presence of Christ, and is a profession of their love and affection. Mystically it signifies Christ, for by this material light He is represented who is the " true light which enlighteneth every man " ( John 1:9 ). If the resources of the church permit, it is the rule of the Caerem. Episc. (1, xii. 17) that more than one light should burn before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, but always in uneven numbers, i.e. three, five, seven, or more. The lamp is usually suspended before the tabernacle by means of a chain or rope, and it should hang sufficiently high and removed from the altar-steps to cause no inconvenience to those who are engaged in the sanctuary. It may also be suspended from, or placed in a bracket at the side of the altar, provided always it be in front of the altar within the sanctuary proper (Cong. Sac. Rit., 2 June, I883). The altar-lamp may be made of any kind of metal, and of any shape or form. According to the opinion of reputable theologians, it would be a serious neglect, involving grave sin, to leave the altar of the Blessed Sacrament without this light for any protracted length of time, such as a day or several nights (St. Lig., VI, 248). For symbolical reasons olive oil is prescribed for the lamp burning before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, for it is a symbol of purity, peace, and godliness. Since pure olive oil, without any admixture, causes some inconvenience in the average American climate, oil containing between 60 and 65 per cent of pure olive oil is supposed to be legitimate material. Where olive oil cannot be had, it is allowed, at the discretion of the ordinary, to use other, and as far as possible vegetable, oils (Cong. Sac. Rit., 9 July, 1864). In case of necessity, that is, in very poor churches, or where it is practically impossible to procure olive or vegetable oils, the ordinary, according to the general opinion of theologians, would be justified to authorize the use of petroleum. We are of the opinion, however, that there are but few parishes that can claim this exemption on the plea of poverty. Gas (Ephem. Lit., IX, 176, 1895) and electric lights (Cong. Sac. Rit., 4 June, 1895) are not allowed in its stead. The Caerem. Episc. (ibid.) would have three lights burn continually before the high altar, and one light before the other altars, at least during Mass and Vespers. Before the Blessed Sacrament, wherever kept, a lamp should be constantly burning. Our bishops have the power of granting permission to a priest, under certain circumstances, to keep the Blessed Sacrament in his house. In such cases, by virtue of Faculty, n. 24, Form. I, the priest may keep it without a light, if otherwise it would be exposed to the danger of irreverence or sacrilege. For the same reason we believe It may be kept also in the church without a light during the night.


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, First Samuel 1:24-28
24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, ... Read More

Psalm, First Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8
1 Hannah then prayed as follows: My heart exults in ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:46-56
46 And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 22nd, 2014 Image

St. Chaeromon
December 22: Bishop of Nilopolis, in Egypt. When the persecution was ... 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