The promise of the Paschal candle
At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, when the congregation is engulfed in darkness, the entrance of a single source of light from the Paschal candle signifies hope, salvation, resurrection. It is the light that we follow into the darkened church, the only light that illuminates our way. As the gentle flame draws us in, we are reminded that our Saviour, through His death and resurrection, has set aflame our new life within Him and He is the light that we follow.
This year, the Paschal candle held new meaning for me as I became the godmother of two of my parish’s RCIA elect, sisters whose long journey home to the Catholic Church has been challenging. The sisters had never before been to the Easter Vigil, never experienced the grandeur of the Sacred Liturgy so beautifully celebrated, never fully participated in the Eucharistic celebration, never before received the grace of being a full member of the one, holy Catholic Church. As I sat between the sisters, so grateful to be with them and so thankful for our faithful priests who gave of themselves so tirelessly during Lent and the Easter Triduum, I had to stop myself from embracing them and asking excitedly: “See? Isn’t this awesome? You’re part of the Catholic Church now! Isn’t God great?”
The Easter Vigil homilist asked passionately: “Christ has risen in each and every one of us. Can you feel it? Do you know it? The life of Christ in us that we love more than all else. The life of Christ that burns within us. Would you willingly die for that life?”
The prayers of Consecration which had not been prayed since Holy Thursday brought a deep sense of comfort that our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament had returned to our parish. But it was the Paschal candle burning brightly that continued to draw my attention.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote of the Paschal candle:
This is a light that lives from sacrifice. The candle shines inasmuch as it is burnt up. It gives light, inasmuch as it gives itself. Thus the Church presents most beautifully the Paschal mystery of Christ, who gives Himself and so bestows the great light.
We should remember that the light of the candle is a fire. Fire is the power that shapes the world, the force of transformation. And fire gives warmth. Here too the mystery of Christ is made newly visible. Christ, the light, is fire, flame, burning up evil and so reshaping both the world and ourselves. … And this fire is both heat and light: not a cold light, but one through which God’s warmth and goodness reach down to us.
Let us pray to the Lord at this time that He may grant us to experience the joy of His light; let us pray that we ourselves may become bearers of His light, and that through the Church, Christ’s radiant face may enter our world. (Homily, Easter Vigil, 7 April 2012)
We godparents lit the baptismal candles for our newly baptized and the gesture of passing on the light of Christ to them was very clear. Receiving and passing on the flame holds great responsibility. The godparents, in lighting the baptismal candles and handing them on to the elect were in effect promising: I pass on to you the light of Christ. I promise to help you grow in your life of faith, and I promise to be a bearer of the light of Christ for you.
In receiving the lit baptismal candle from their godparents, what the elect were saying was this: I receive the light of Christ through my baptism into the Catholic Church. I promise to continue to grow in my life of faith and in my turn, to be a light of God’s goodness to all I meet in the world.
And the congregation that stood in witness were not merely spectators. They promised to live the life of Christ bestowed upon them at their baptism and renewed that night.
The Paschal candle that remains lit until the end of the Easter season symbolizes Christ resurrected in all of us. As it burns it asks the same questions demanded by the homilist: Do you know that our resurrected Lord lives within you? Do you love the life of Christ in you more than anything or anyone else? Will you be the light of God’s goodness and righteousness in a darkened world? Do you love Christ totally and are you willing to lay down your life for Him?
Source: Pope Benedict XVI, compiled by Thigpen, P. The Faith: Reflections on the truths of the Apostles’ Creed from the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI. Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2013.
Photo: “DeaconsingingExsultet2007” by Błażej Benisz – WSD Ołtarzew, www.wsdsac.pl. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DeaconsingingExsultet2007.jpg#/media/File:DeaconsingingExsultet2007.jpg