Sacramentum: The baptismal candle
This article is the second installment of Sacramentum, a new series by the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. This series explores the sacraments of the Catholic Church – the depths of their meaning, history, and, above all, the impact they have on each of us in our daily faith lives.
This article will focus on the symbolic significance of the baptismal candle, a reminder of the Divine Light that is imparted to us at our baptism. It is written by Sr. Connie Harkin, SSND.
“Light -Lux – Lumina- Luz”
No matter what language we speak, the word connotes the opposite of dark! When I consider the symbol of light in the Rite of Baptism, what comes to mind is the presentation of the baptismal candle – lit from the Paschal candle – to the newly baptized, or on his/her behalf to the godparents. This has great significance in the baptismal ritual, and for the whole of our spiritual lives.
Throughout our life, when we experience the absence of light – we are “in the dark”. We are unable to see, to find our way, to walk safely. We are in need of direction – something that can take away the darkness and reveal the world around us so that we may navigate through it safely.
No one likes to be lost, to not know where one is, to not know what path one should take, to desperately try and determine which direction to follow. It can be very stressful to experience this, whether we are three weeks old, thirty three years old or more. But we need not do it all alone. We can turn to others for direction, for guidance, for knowing the best road to take. The words of John Donne come to mind: “No man is an island” – and no truer statement could be said. Along the journey of life, we need others. Our life in this world is a shared experience.
We may veer off in the road of life, we take detours, and sometimes it may seem we have completely lost our way. This is true of our faith journey also, which at times hits bumps, road blocks and even alternate routes. We can be even challenged by “nightfall” in our faith journey, a “dark night of the soul”. But yet another – a Divine Other – assured us “I am the way…..” (John 14:6 ) He tell us, “I am the light of the world…” (John 8:12). He brightens our way when we come to realize and to know in our hearts, that, with Him, we can never truly be lost.
At baptism, we begin venturing out on this road of life with our Divine Guide. It marks the initial step in our faith journey. From then on we are called to grow, through the Spirit of God, to become more and more like Him – the one we call the Incarnate God. Baptism is the beginning of an exciting and authentic friendship. This friend, the Light of the World, leads the way and we learn to trust that, with this Divine Guide, we are on track!
The candle set aflame at our baptism reflects this new light and warmth that spreads before us on our life path. This candle flame is a reminder that within this new friendship with God is a light that will always be there to guide our way and drive out the darkness. Just notice the difference we experience when we walk into a space where a candlelight is glowing. Do we not sense a welcoming atmosphere, and dare I say, a strength and a desire to remain in that space – a sacred space in which we begin to realize we are not alone?
We use candles in our lives marking many events of life – at birthdays, in anniversary celebrations, at the Sacrifice of the Mass, in processions during pilgrimages to holy sites, at weddings to mark the union of husband and wife, or when the power goes out in our homes. Uniquely, during the Rite of Baptism, the candle is lit from the Paschal / Easter candle, for this candle represents our connection with the Risen Christ – Our Divine Guide – the Light of the World.
In one of the Church’s great documents, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church – Lumen Gentium – Light of the World – the Church is called to be a light to all people. Hence, we are all called to be witnesses who bring Christ’s light to the world. Let us also take to heart, the beautiful, profound words addressed to the parents and godparents during the Rite of Baptism: “These children of yours have been enlightened by Christ. They are to walk always as children of the light. May they keep the flame of faith alive in their hearts”.
As a teacher in bygone years, I encouraged my students to find their baptismal candle and to light it anew on the anniversary of their Baptism. Once again, we could make our baptismal promises as we recall that moment. It may even be an opportunity to involve the parents and to remind them of the significance of their role in the baptism ceremony. Personally, I have made this practice a part of my faith life every year on February 25th, the anniversary of my own baptism. Since my candle was lost or used up, I was able to obtain a candle and continue this important spiritual moment of recollection and renewal and it is my desire is to continue it as long as I am able.
So, let us take heart and hear these reassuring words from the one who knew darkness and banished the darkness as he stated; “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true and try to what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8-10)
Written by Sister Connie Harkin