Candles are exceedingly common in Catholic and other Christian churches. We are accustomed to seeing altar candles, advent candles, devotional candles, and perhaps other candle varieties in just about any sanctuary. In fact, candles are used often outside of the Christian faith as well - there is certainly something about them that harkens a feeling of solemnity and worship.

Altar candles are candles that are set on or near altars for a religious ceremony. Denominations vary in their placement of altar candles. For example, in the Catholic church, candles are placed by the side of the altar during mass rather than directly upon it. At least two altar candles are used, but sometimes more on Holy Days of Obligation or other important times. The most important altar candle is the Paschal Candle. The Paschal candle is blessed during the Easter Season and burned only at special times throughout the liturgical year, these altar candles are traditionally tall and ornate.

Altar candles also have important symbolism. Catholics view the altar candle wax as a symbol of Jesus’ body, the wick represents his soul, and the flame signifies his divinity. Methodists will often use two candles on the altar to symbolize that Jesus is both a human being and the divine Lord.

Advent candles are probably the most recognizable candles in the Catholic church. Each week of the four-week Advent season is marked by the lighting of a candle. Purple is the traditional color of advent, so three of the four candles are usually purple. The third Sunday in Advent is a time of rejoicing - so that candle is pink to emphasize that the penitence period of Advent is ceasing.

Votive candles are lit as a physical representation of a prayer. They are often seen in side areas or vestibules of the Catholic church, but they are common in other denominations as well. In the Anglican church, votive candles are often lit in honor of people who have passed away. Votive candles can be tealights or tall and tapered.

In addition to the uses of candles, churches prioritize the materials of candles. Some altar candles are made of stearine. Others are made of 100% beeswax or some percentage of beeswax mixed with another material. Since the wax of the candle represents Jesus’ body, the Catholic church prefers altar candles that are more than 50% beeswax.

If you are purchasing altar or other candles for your church or faith community, be sure to find a trusted retailer who can help you navigate the types and materials.