As I’ve mentioned before, I listen to an hour of Catholic talk radio daily in order to stay abreast of what’s going on in the Catholic church for the purposes of this blog, although I obviously would not recommend the practice to others as a general rule. I used to listen to a local Catholic talk radio show, “The Catholic Connection,” but their recent decision to revamp their format and refrain from criticizing the church’s hierarchy has made for very dull listening, so I’ve switched to EWTN’s “Called to Communion,” an “outreach” to Protestants and lapsed Catholics.
This morning, I was listening to the 4/3/18 podcast of the “Called to Communion” show featuring moderator, Tom Price, and host, David Anders. A listener, Ken from Camden, Tennessee, called in and asked why Catholics have large candle displays in churches and at shrines. If you visit a Catholic church or a shrine, you’ll notice a large display of small “votive” (definition: “offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow”) candles, usually in red glass containers and placed in front of a statue of Jesus, Mary, or some other saint. Votive candles are made available to Catholics visiting a church or shrine. Supplicants contribute an offering into a nearby donation box, take a candle, light it, place it in the display, and then say a prayer to Jesus, Mary, or a saint. But why do Catholics do this, was Ken’s question.
Anders answered that the candles serve as physical signs and reminders that the supplicants’ prayers are going up to God (or to Mary or to a saint). He stated that it’s useful to have physical “props”/sensory objects so that the accompanying sounds, smells, lights, and touches “can help us elevate our minds to the eternal.” In Catholic parlance, candles and other such religious objects are “sacramentals,” supposedly “sacred signs” that bear a resemblance to the sacraments by which people “are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments.”
Anders qualifies his endorsement of candles by saying, “It would be wrong to think of (candles) in a superstitious way, as if the candle kept praying after (the supplicant is) gone.” But, of course, that is the exact thinking of many/most who use these candles.
Catholicism has always conflated the physical with the spiritual and votive candles are just one example in a multitude of many other such practices. In place of a genuine spiritual relationship with God through the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, the Catholic church has substituted ritualism, legalism, and the veneration of objects.
Pious Catholics love the ambiance of burning candles as part of their religious ritual, as if they somehow create an atmosphere of reverence and heightened spirituality. Practitioners believe a burning candle in conjunction with prayer will enhance the effectiveness of the prayer. And, yes, many/most walk away believing the prayer continues as long as the candle burns.
Votive candles are just part of the elaborate ritualism that developed within the increasingly institutionalized early church. Yes, in the Old Testament there was the lampstand/menorah standing in the Holy Place in Israel’s Tabernacle and Temple, which was a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World.
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12
But there’s no record of ritualistic candle burning in the New Testament. Besides that, nowhere in the entire Bible does a believer pray to anyone other than God. Burning candles while praying or “meditating” is also becoming popular among non-Catholics who are increasingly attracted to Catholic, New Age, and Eastern “mysticism.” We don’t need candles to “enhance” our prayers and we should only be praying to the Lord.
Catholic friend, religious ritualism and formalism do not help you merit Heaven. The Bible says we are all sinners and all of us deserve eternal punishment. But God loves us so much he sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world to live a perfect life and pay the penalty for our sins. But He rose from the grave, conquering sin and death, and offers you the free gift of eternal life if you will just come to Him in prayer, repent of your sin, and accept Him as your Savior by faith alone. Will you trust in Christ?
Is it allowable to use candles in connection with prayer?
Postscript: As an eighth-grade Catholic grammar school student, I remember our class going to the attached church building during school hours for some kind of religious service. In every Catholic church near the “altar” or “tabernacle” box (where surplus consecrated Jesus wafers are stored), burns a large candle in red glass, which is meant to symbolize the perpetual presence of Jesus in the church. The candle must never be allowed to go out. Well, on this particular occasion, our nun-teacher, Sister Virginia, noticed that the flame of the red candle had in fact gone out! She became emotionally frantic and completely discombobulated! From her reaction, you would have thought she was witnessing a four-year-old drowning in a pool. A student would have suffered injury if they had gotten in the way of the nun’s desperate race to relight the candle. It’s this kind of ritualistic, material-minded, superstitious, false spirituality that Catholicism breeds.