The Paschal candle is a large, white candle used liturgically in the Western Rites of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.). A new Paschal candle is blessed and lit every year at Easter, and is used throughout the Paschal season and then throughout the year on special occasions, such as baptisms and funerals.
Meaning of the Paschal candle
The flame of the Paschal candle symbolizes Christ as light of the world and his presence in the midst of his people. The Paschal candle is sometimes referred to as the "Easter candle" or the "Christ candle." The term "Paschal" comes from the word Pesach, which in Hebrew means Passover. The tall white candle in many ways signifies the Divine pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that lead the Israelites in their Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
The equivalent of the Paschal candle in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Paschal trikirion which differs both in style and usage.
Description of the Paschal candle
For congregations that use a Paschal candle it is the largest candle in the worship space. In most cases today the candle will display several common symbols:
In the medieval church Paschal candles often reached a stupendous size. The Paschal candle of Salisbury Cathedral was said to have been 36 feet tall. Today, in the United States and Southern Europe (e.g., Italy and France) the candle is approximately 2 inches in diameter and 36 to 48 inches tall; in Northern Europe the candle tends to be shorter in height (19 to 24 inches) and wider in diameter (3 to 5 inches).
The Paschal candle in the Easter Vigil
For churches that celebrate the Easter Vigil on the Saturday evening before Easter the ceremonial lighting of the Paschal candle is one of the most solemn moments of the service.
On Maundy Thursday of the same week the entire church is darkened by extinguishing all candles and lamps. This represents the darkness of a world without God.
At the opening of the Easter Vigil a "new fire" is lit and blessed. The minister will trace the symbols (mentioned above) on the Paschal candle, saying words similar to: "Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the ending. To Christ belongs all time and all the ages; to Christ belongs glory and dominion now and forever. Amen."
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