The Pascal Candle
O Light Whose Splendor thrills and gladdens
With radiance brighter than the sun
Pure gleam of God’s unending glory
O Jesus, blest Anointed One
—taken from the hymn, “O Light Whose Splendor Thrills” from With One Voice
These words, taken from a third-Century Greek hymn, suggest a Pascal, or Christ candle, was used in worship. The oldest witness of a special Easter Candle is from 380 AD, cited in a letter by St. Jerome.
Pascal Candles come in a great variety of designs and sizes, and at New Jerusalem one of our annual Lenten projects is to cast a new Pascal Candle from wax left over from the candlelight services at Christmas and the altar candles that are burned throughout the year.
The symbols painted onto the candle are chosen for their meaning and significance in further instruction in the Christian faith. The white color of the candle symbolizes hope and life. The Easter Candle shows the symbol of the Cross, and beside the Cross the Greek letter Ά (Alpha), the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and the letter Ώ (Omega), the last letter. These are chosen to correspond to the scripture from Revelation 1:8: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (See also Revelation 22:13).
The current year is affixed on the candle showing Christ as Lord of the present time as well as Lord of the past and future. Five big nails of wax represent the five wounds of Jesus: in his hands, in his feet, and in his side. Other symbols such as trees, a lamb, a fish, and a dove, or the symbols of the holy Trinity, or sunlight or water may be added.
The new candle burns through the Easter season through Confirmation on the Day of Pentecost. Then the candle is lighted at each celebration of a baptism, at which time the baptismal candles are lighted from it to be given to the baptized or sponsor. Here we say, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” This act is a visual reminder of the integral connection between baptism and Easter.
The Pascal Candle is lighted again at each reception to Holy Communion, at which time those being recognized as communing members of our church are welcomed to God’s table. Candidates receiving their first communion are encouraged to bring their baptismal candle so they may light it from the pascal candle, hearing again the baptismal promises and recommitting themselves to “let their lights shine” as we recognize this next step on their journey of faith.
For funerals, the paschal candle is lighted and placed in its stand at the head of the casket during the funeral rite. In a visual way, the paschal candle proclaims the message of Romans 6:3-5 (used at the beginning of the burial liturgy): “In our baptism we have already died and been raised with Christ.”