Candles have been used in religious ceremonies for hundreds of years.
The candles symbolises the light of God. In ancient times it supplied the light by which the priest could read the text in the Missal.
Today it is used as a symbol.
There are four main parts that the candles are used during an ordinary mass (extra ordinary masses will be covered later in this article).
The parts where the candles are used are:
- Entrance Procession
- Reading of the gospel
- Procession of the gifts
- Leaving Procession
The specifics on how these parts are performed will vary from parish to parish and church to church. However the general principle always remains the same.
The Priest, Altar Servers, Acolytes and sometimes Readers usually congregate at the back of the church before Mass begins. The two Candle Bearers will line up side by side behind the Cross Bearer (Crucifer). They proceed the down the isle led by the cross.
N.B The next section will vary between different parishes
Once they arrive to the front of the altar they will either split apart and line up at the front with enough room for Father and any other celebrants to line up between them, or they will simply bow their heads respectfully and proceed to their seats.
Altar Servers and Acolytes will then retire to their designated seats. The candles are placed on either the Credence Table or another table close to where the Altar Servers will sit. (This depends on the layout of the church)
Liturgy of the Word (Reading of the Gospel)
Just after the second reading is concluded the Candle Bearers should begin to prepare for the procession to the lectern where the priest or deacon will read the Gospel of the day. How this procession takes place will vary slightly from church to churhc. Typically however the candle bearers will lead the priest (or deacon) to the lectern standing one on either side. In some cases the Gospel itself will be carried to the lectern and in other cases it may already have been placed there (either prior to the begining of mass or duing the entrance procession).
The important thing to remember is that when crossing the altar, all in the procession will stop and bow. Once the Gospel has been read the Candle Bearers will return to their seats and place the candles back down.
The offertory takes place after the prayers of the faithful. During this time it is customary to have the first collection. When this occurs the Candle Bearers pick up their candles and together they head off the sanctuary to the front of the altar. Facing the altar they bow together and head up the main ailse side by side to the back of the church. Waiting at the back will be the gifts (usually the water and wine cruets and a paten containing the bread). These gifts will have been prepared by a Eucharistic Minister (usually the priest, deacon or acolyte) prior to the mass.
When the priest heads from his chair to the front of the altar the Candle Bearers lead the members of the congregation that will present the gifts to the celebrant. Side by side they should set a dignified pace. As they approach the front they should begin to spread outwards so that one is on either side of the celebrant (and deacon if one is present) to allow enough room for the gifts to be properly presented to the priest.
Once the priest has recieved these gifts and is heading back to the altar the two Candle Bearers should bow to the altar and proceed to return to their seats placing the candles back in their spot.
N.B. There are many variations to the offetory procession depending on the church layout and local customs. This is the most common format used in many churhces.
The final time the processional candles are used during a normal mass is at the very end. Again the final formation of this can vary from church to church but the basics are the same. All the ministers of the altar i.e. the celebrant, the deacon (if one is present), the acolyte and all the altar servers line up at the front of the altar. Together they will all bow to the altar and then proceed up the main aisle to the back of the church.The Candle Bearers will walk side by side behind the processional cross.
It is important to note that the procession has not ended until the cross bearer and the ministers retire to a quiet spot (usually the sacristy) where they all bow to the processional cross.