OCF 35: Easter Candle and Other Candles

Let’s get the OCF series back on track, shall we? Just a reminder for those joining us late in the game that the purpose of these hundreds of posts on church documents is to study them for a perspective on mainstream church practice: how they impact what happens in an ordinary faith community–parish or religious. I present this as I might in an adult formation course in a parish: to Catholics with a basic curiosity and education. Obviously, if I were presenting the full breadth of scholarship, we’d be looking at the original documents in Latin, the various footnotes, and the theological pedigree of, in this case, the funeral liturgy. I certainly invite anyone who wishes to provide a more in-depth background to do so. I leave the setting open for any of that.

Okay. PSA done, so let’s get to candles, and a little bit more:

35. The Easter candle reminds the faithful of Christ’s undying presence among them, of his victory over sin and death, and of their share in that victory by virtue of their initiation. It recalls the Easter Vigil, the night when the Church awaits the Lord’s resurrection and when new light for the living and the dead is kindled. During the funeral liturgy and also during the vigil service, when celebrated in the church, the Easter candle may be placed beforehand near the position the coffin will occupy at the conclusion of the procession.

According to local custom, other candles may also be placed near the coffin during the funeral liturgy as a sign of reverence and solemnity.

With Church teaching on this intimate connection with the Paschal Mystery, reinforced by the symbol of the Easter candle, I cannot agree with those who believe the shift “from the Dies Irae to the Exsultet” was a misguided one for funerals. The emphasis on the Eucharist and the resurrection is appropriate, and reflects hope, both human and Christian, for the dead. Ultimately, the judgment is God’s. And standing with our departed loved one or friend is fitting for one who has been our companion in faith. That said, an emphasis on either the accomplishments or sins of the deceased is far less appropriate. Memories of a person’s good deed or damaging behavior is part of the human mourning. We should remember the good, and heal from the evil–as mourners. As liturgical celebrants, it is appropriate to keep the liturgy affixed on Christ, and on our petition to the Father for the dead.

While the Easter candle “may” be placed near the coffin, my experience is that it always has been. Don’t forget the vigil, either.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you celebrate the vigil in your parish church or religious chapel?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Order of Christian Funerals, post-conciliar liturgy documents, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

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