Why do we light votive candles?


Have you ever wished you could be in two places at the same time? Did you ever have to say, “I’ll be there in spirit”?

The burning flame of a votive candle is a visible way to express our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer, even when we cannot be in a shrine physically.

After we (or someone on our behalf) lights a votive candle, the candle continues to burn for hours or days, remaining as a sign of us and our intentions.

How a candle represents you

As humans, we are body and soul — physical and spiritual. So it’s not surprising that the Church expresses unseen spiritual realities in visible, symbolic ways that speak directly to our nature.

The Catholic custom of lighting candles has its roots in early Christian times, emerging from the Church teaching that Christ is the Light of the World (see Jn 8:12).

For this reason, in our Liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Easter (Paschal) candle and says to the newly baptized, “You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).

A lit votive candle visually recalls that “flame of faith” in a person’s heart, and thus is appropriate to represent the individual’s heartfelt intentions.

A Promise of Prayer

The candles we light for your intentions are “votive” candles. The word comes from the Latin votum, meaning “vow,” “promise,” “dedication,” or simply “prayer.” It reinforces the idea that the candles represent our prayers before God.

The symbolism reminds us that our prayer is before God, allowing our souls to be filled with His light, and letting that light continue to burn in our souls even though we may physically be performing other activities.

The consuming of the candle symbolizes the oblation (offering) of something to God: our time, our praise, or our resources. The Church rarely allows electric votive candles because they do not carry the full visual symbolism of our prayer involving something being given completely to God.

Today, only the candles used in Holy Mass and other liturgical rites must be composed solely of beeswax. Our votive candles nevertheless are “liturgical grade” — that is, they must have a “pure burn” providing “a living flame without being smoky or noxious.”

Deeds of Mercy

Praying for someone is in itself a deed of mercy.

The offering an individual makes for the lighting of a candle also is a deed of mercy. It answers our call to be a light to the world (see Mt 5:14) by making the good deeds of our faith visible. Donations to Our Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine support the Marian Fathers in their ministries around the world.

Supporting the Marian Fathers’ ministries affects others around the world by encouraging them in Marian devotion, prayer for the souls in Purgatory, and sharing the message of Divine Mercy. Through these ministries, countless lives have been touched and souls saved.

The Our Lady of Mercy Candle Shrine has more than 2,600 candles burning brightly together at any given time for the many prayer intentions of the faithful, expressing a shared trust in the Lord.

By Theresa Peloquin