My mother saved my baptismal candle and somehow it made it through the twists and turns of my life when I found it recently and I thought to light it at a party to give blessings to those in attendance. I was okay in theory but so very off in practice.
A baptismal candle here in San Miguel is large and lovely, lit beside the baptismal font and later given to the baby’s parents. It is called a Paschal candle and adorned with symbolism including:
- First and last letters of the Greek alphabet for Jesus being the beginning and end
- Wheat and grapes for the Eucharist
- Red for Christ’s blood at the Crucifixion.
- The current year
On Holy Saturday evening (the night before Easter) a fire is lit in metal bowl called a brazier (which sounds like something sold at Victoria’s Secrets, but isn’t). From the brazier comes a new and blessed fire that serves as an image of Resurrection. The candle, which represents Christ himself, is placed on a stand by the altar. Five grains of incense are inserted into the candle to represent the five spices that were used to prepare Christ’s body for the tomb.
This particular mass is the longest (and in my opinion, dullest, outside the fire part) of the year.
The candle is lit is lit throughout the year at baptisms and funerals, both being a reminder that death is necessary to return to Christ. At times, a Paschal candle lit at a wake will go ablaze wildly reminding mourners of the blessings it gave the deceased during their lifetime. At the next lighting it will burn perfectly normally.
The word paschal comes from the Greek and Hebrew meanings for passing over. Meaning death from when God struck the houses of the Egyptians but left the Israelites untouched, thus “passing over” or sparing them. With the new Catholic Church paschal came to represent eternal life following death.
You’ll find the Paschal candles for sale Holy Week (the week before Easter) and at funeral homes like the one beside Bonanza on Mesones. Don’t use them a parties or for romantic lighting, as I now know it is wildly inappropriate! Instead they are lit in desperate times, particularly those when death approaches and you want it to pass you by.
Joseph Toone is the Historical Society’s short-story award winning author of the SMA Secrets book series. All books in the series are Amazon bestsellers in Mexican Travel and Holidays. Toone is SMA’s expert and TripAdvisor’s top ranked historical tour guide telling the stories behind what we do in today’s SMA. Visit HistoryAndCultureWalkingTours.com, and JosephTooneTours.com.