Ever noticed that candles at churches are always white? There’s a reason for that.
Candles are a reference to the person of Christ. That is why they ought to be white and made mostly out of beeswax. Gilded and painted candles are permitted, but under certain restrictions. In Requiem Masses and in Holy Week yellow or unbleached wax are to be used.
As regards material, the candles used for liturgical purposes should be of beeswax. This is adhered to on account probably of its symbolic reference to the flesh of Christ. In the praeconium paschale Saint Jerome highlights the idea of the supposed virginity of bees, and the wax is therefore regarded as typifying in a most appropriate way the flesh of Jesus Christ born of a virgin mother.
Furthermore the wick symbolizes more particularly the soul of Jesus Christ and the flame the Divinity which absorbs and dominates both. Thus the great paschal candle represents Christ, “the true light”, and the smaller candles are typical of each individual Christian who strives to reproduce Christ in his life.
Sanctuary or tabernacle lamps are not made out of beeswax. To find out why, see our other article: Why churches have sanctuary lamps.
Daily Mass and Easter Candles
In the case of the paschal candle and the 2 candles which are of obligation at Mass, a decree of the Congregation of Rites (14 Dec., 1904) has decided that they must be of beeswax for most part (“in maxima parte”), which commentators have interpreted as meaning not less than 75%.
For other purposes the candles placed upon the altar, e.g. at Benediction, ought to be made of wax, “in great part” (as opposed to “most part” for daily mass candles), i.e. more than 50%. Of such altar candles a minimum of 12 is prescribed for any public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, though 6 will suffice in a poor church or for a private exposition.
It is also fitting that the candles for liturgical purposes should be blessed, but this is not prescribed as of obligation. An elaborate blessing for candles is provided on the feast of the Purification on 2 Feb., otherwise known as Candlemas Day, and this is followed by a distribution of candles and a procession. In former ages this function was performed by the sovereign pontiff wherever he was resident; and of the candles so blessed some were scattered among the crowd and others sent as presents to persons of note. A less elaborate form of blessing for candles on ordinary occasions is given in the Missal as well as in the Ritual.
Sanctuary or tabernacle lamps are not made out of beeswax but olive oil. To find out the origin and symbolism, see our other article: Why churches have sanctuary lamps.
(Source: Catholic Encyclopedia)
Semper Excelsius is a website for the defense of the Catholic faith through instruction and informative articles. Its focus is on explaining the rich history and traditions of the holy Roman Catholic Church, while defending her teachings against false assumptions and doctrinal errors.