When to Extinguish the Easter Candle

And More on Veneration of the Cross

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ROME, MAY 17, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Some years back, in the calendar of the diocesan yearbook, apparently for all three Welsh dioceses, a quaint enthusiast instructed that the paschal candle should be extinguished at the Ascension but left in the sanctuary unlit for the novena of Pentecost. This directive was never repeated but has permanently confused people. Is it correct, is it optional, or is it a piece of ill-devised symbolism for the absence of the Lord, who is always present? We would be so grateful for your advice. -- S.M., Hawarden, Wales

A: It is quite probable that this suggestion was inspired in part by the custom of the extraordinary form in which the Easter candle is extinguished after the Gospel during the principal Mass of Ascension Thursday.

In this ritual context the candle symbolizes the presence of the glorified risen Christ. It is therefore logical, in the extraordinary form, to extinguish the candle at the Ascension.

The rubrics of the extraordinary form, unlike the indication of the aforementioned calendar, foresee the removal of the candle from the sanctuary after this Mass. The indication of leaving it unlit until Pentecost would appear to be an attempt to reconcile the earlier custom with the clear indication in the present rubrics that the candle remain until Pentecost Sunday.

In fact, the present rubrics foresee a much wider use of the paschal candle during the year than the extraordinary form. In the latter the use of the candle is limited to the more solemn celebrations during the 40 days between Easter and Ascension. Even during this period it is not used for Masses for the dead and other Masses requiring violet vestments such as rogation Masses.

With respect to the ordinary form the Circular Letter on the Easter Feasts states the following: "99. The paschal candle has its proper place either by the ambo or by the altar and should be lit at least in all the more solemn liturgical celebrations of the season until Pentecost Sunday, whether at Mass or at Morning and Evening Prayer. After the Easter season, the candle should be kept with honor in the baptistry, so that in the celebration of baptism, the candles of the baptized may be lit from them. In the celebration of funerals the paschal candle should be placed near the coffin to indicate that the death of a Christian is his own passover. The paschal candle should not otherwise be lit nor placed in the sanctuary outside the Easter season."

This expanded use also explains why, in most parishes, the norm that the Easter candle be renewed each year is also a practical necessity. The extraordinary form is less demanding on this point.

The indication that the candle should be lit "at least in all the more solemn liturgical celebrations" of Eastertide means that it is not required to light it at all Masses and community celebrations of the Divine Office. This possibility is not excluded, however, especially in communities such as seminaries and religious houses that regularly celebrate the liturgy with some solemnity but where baptisms and funerals are rarely celebrated.

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Follow-up: Limited Veneration of the Cross

A reader recently posed the following question: "I was watching on TV the Good Friday ceremony and to my surprise I noticed that the celebrant was using just a wooden cross without the effigy of Christ on it for the veneration of the cross. We do sing, 'This is the wood of the cross on which our Savior died.' So is this in keeping with the liturgy?"

The <A href="http://www.zenit.org/article-32471?l=english">May 3</A> article touched upon this theme: "[W]hile I personally hold that it is preferable to use a cross with a corpus, the possibility of using a simple cross is contemplated in several documents published by the U.S. bishops' conference. I have not found anything in universal law that could decide the question one way or the other, although my own interpretation is that when the liturgical documents mention a cross they almost invariably mean a crucifix."

We had originally touched upon this theme in articles of <A href="http://www.zenit.org/article-9716?l=english">March 23</A>, 2004, and <A href="http://www.zenit.org/article-9834?l=english">April 6</A>, 2004. Both should be read, since I had to modify some of the assertions in the first article in the wake of feedback from readers.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.