It may seem that something like the type of candle used in liturgy has little to no significance. However, there is a deep historical tradition around using beeswax candles in the Church and liturgy. And the usage of candles more generally has always had a place in the church, which is why when you walk into even the most modern Catholic churches you will still see some type of candle. 

Ancient Roots of Candle Use in Religious Practices

A few years back I was at a monastery in the Republic of Georgia. The Sapara Monastery is an Georgian Orthodox monastery tucked into the green hills nearby the town of Akhaltsikhe. I remember the ancient stone structures tucked into a landscape that was home to the famous Georgian kings of old. The monks who lived in hermit-like caves, with long beards, black cassocks, seemed similarly ancient. Woven throughout the old buildings were beeboxes. What I didn’t realize at the time, but now know, is that beekeeping and candle making are similarly ancient practices rooted deep in the life of the Church. 

In early Christianity, the use of candles became more prevalent. The early church fathers believed that there was a symbolic purity that was represented in the wax from bees. As Father Edward McNamara, LC points out, the conclusive verse in the Easter Proclamation testifies to this: 

 “The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift from your most holy Church.

History Of Candles In the Liturgy

McNamara also explains how the portion of beeswax in church candles is so important that it used to be regulated in church law. For example, he explains how at one point in the Paschal candle and altar candles needed to have at least 65 percent real beeswax. Who would have guessed that there were regulations for the percentage beeswax in candles? Just in case you were wondering, all other church candles need to have at least 25% real beeswax according to McNamara. 

Even if those regulations regarding beeswax percentage no longer exist, the Church still places a high value on candles as a whole so much so that candles have been institutionalized in the liturgical calendar with the celebration of Candlemas. Celebrated on February 2nd, this celebration dates back to the 5th century and Pope Gelasius I. In the year 494 The pope,  replaced a pagan celebration and created Candlemas which included processions and the blessing of candles in churches. 

There is also a groundhog day like saying that goes along with the celebration of Candlemas,

"If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter won't come again."

The Three Days Of Darkness

Perhaps the most controversial historical note regarding beeswax candles is the three days of darkness prophecy. In the Catholic tradition there have been  some people who’ve predicted that there will be three days of complete darkness on the earth. That all of the lights will go out and the only source of light will be from candles, specifically, blessed beeswax candles. 

While there is a lot more to go into from the medieval monks and their apiaries to contemporary movements within the church to revivify beeswax candle making. Here at Ambrosian Candles we hope to add to the tradition in our own small way. 

On the journal

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