IX: The Paschal Candle
Q: What is the Paschal Candle?
A: The Paschal candle is a tall candle, visually representing Jesus' Resurrection. Often the candle is marked with a cross, the Alpha and Omega, the current year, and five wax studs (called "incense nails") representing Christ's five wounds. Because the paschal candle is so closely tied to Jesus' Resurrection, it is lighted only during the liturgies of Easter season. The paschal candle is lighted for the first time at the first service of Easter, historically the Vigil, where the lighted paschal candle is solemnly carried into a darkened nave, or at a dawn service. At the end of the worship service the paschal candle should not be extinguished at the same time as the altar candles because the paschal candle should give the impression of burning continuously. It is extinguished for the final time after the reading of the Gospel on Ascension Day (or the Sunday after the Ascension where there is no Ascension Day service; or, in some customs at Pentecost). During Easter season the paschal candle is placed in the chancel near the Gospel (left, if you are facing the altar) side of the altar. After the Easter season the candle is placed near the baptismal font as a visual reminder that through Baptism we are crucified and resurrected with Christ. When Baptism is celebrated, the paschal candle is lighted. It is also lighted for funeral services. When the casket is present, the paschal candle is placed at the foot of the casket. Here the tie to Jesus' Resurrection is especially appropriate.
The current use of the paschal candle is the outgrowth of a long and respected tradition in the church, originating in ancient times. Candles were blessed when lighted in the early church's evening worship. Sometime in the 5th and 6th centuries the paschal candle became established as a symbol of Jesus' Resurrection. The paschal candles of the Middle Ages were very large, sometimes weighing 300 pounds but more likely 10-20 pounds. In recent years other candles have been introduced into Lutheran worship, notably the Christ candle and the Evening Prayer candle. These candles are not to be confused with the paschal candle which burns solely in remembrance of Jesus' Resurrection. May the light of Jesus' Resurrection shine in us as it shines from the paschal candle.
Adapted from About Being Lutheran © Lutheran Liturgical Renewal 1991. Used by permission.