In this second piece based on the ‘Tufton Tracts’, I consider the use and meaning of candles in church, beginning with ‘Lamps and Lights in the Bible’ –
‘In the New Testament Jesus said ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12). There is an obvious need to help people to see, both visually and spiritually. We see light as good and darkness as evil. Even when modern lighting became available, the Church continued to use candles as an important part of worship. The living flame is a powerful symbol of the presence of Christ – the light of the world.’
In the Anglo Catholic tradition there are particular practices making use of this powerful symbol of the living flame.
The Reserved Sacrament
A lamp or candle indicates that the Blessed Sacrament is ‘reserved’ in the church. At St Mary’s the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Walsingham Chapel, with a lamp burning continuously above. I found the light of this little lamp very consoling when I was doing a lot of outdoor work to prepare for the restoration of the Top Field at St Mary’s (now the Community Garden). As the sun went down, the lamp cast its light against the stained glass of the chapel window and created an atmosphere of complete peace.
A Stand For Prayer Candles
We have one of these in the ante-chamber to the Walsingham Chapel, and people often light a candle for a loved one, or to accompany other forms of prayer. When they leave the church, the candle continues to burn. Those lighting candles may also ask a Saint to pray with or for them.
How Many Candles on the Altar?
Traditionally, the presence of six candles on the altar indicates the church is of the Anglo- Catholic tradition. Two or four would usually indicate a ‘central churchmanship’ or Evangelical form of worship.
The full set of six ‘Tufton Tracts’ are available free of charge on the wooden rotary leaflet holder in the ante-chamber to the Walsingham Chapel.