Candles play an important part in Catholic worship of God. They adorn the altar, they stand by the ambo, you hold them as acolytes, people light them to in front of the Blessed Sacrament or a statue. Whenever the Blessed Sacrament is in the tabernacle a special candle, the Sanctuary Lamp, always burns close by. The Easter Vigil starts with the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle as the priest prays “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”– it is carried into a darkened church and the risen Christ is again proclaimed to be our light as people light their hand candles from it. It remains lit at all liturgical celebrations during the Easter Season and at baptisms and funerals throughout the year.
Candles are required for the celebration of the Mass. They are used at every liturgical service – at baptisms, penance services, marriages, funerals, vespers, benediction, etc. as a sign of the dignity end festiveness of the celebration. Their light signifies Christ – the light of the world. Their gradual burning down as the wax is consumed serves as a sign of Christ’s self-sacrifice in the service of His mission. Because of this only real candles should be used.
The number of candles used does have a significance. Their varying number is a good way of marking the various days and celebrations of the Church’s year. Two candles are usually used for ferial days (when no feast is being celebrated) and memorials. Four candles[i] are used for feasts and six candles are used on Sundays, solemnities and important celebrations.
When the diocesan bishop celebrates Mass on an important occasion like the Sacrament of Confirmation an odd number of candles, seven, are placed on the altar. This is to signify the completeness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders represented by the presence of the bishop.
[i] Four candles – not fork handles