The Paschal Candle is a large, white candle used in Western Christianity in such traditions as the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches. Lit during the season of Easter and at special liturgies of Holy Baptism and funerals, “Paschal” comes from Pesach, which is Hebrew meaning “Passover,” relating to the Paschal mystery of salvation. Dedicated during the Great Vigil of Easter, the Paschal Candle is symbolic of the eternal light of Christ – the Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end; it symbolizes the eternal light of Christ from the beginning of Creation to the end of time.
Typically these candles are sold with decals and/or wax decorations on them from a variety of church supply companies. They can be very ornate or very simple. In recent years hollow candle “shells” have become available to fill with oil in order to be used over and over again, not burning down as a traditional beeswax candle might after much use.
Many years ago when I was the Director of Children’s Ministries at my home parish, I asked my daughter and her friend if they wanted to decorate a special Paschal Candle, to replace the church’s previous years’ candle that could no longer be used again. I gave them carte blanche to design the candle as long as the traditional components were present: the cross with incense points, the date, and the Greek letters α (Alpha) and Ω (Omega). I provided the supplies: a blank, white Paschal candle, incense points (taken from the “old” Paschal candle), small sheets of colored beeswax sheets, and a Book of Common Prayer.
The candle and the process in which they created it was first described in a featured article in the Winter 2000 Episcopal Teacher magazine (published by the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. Becca (17-years-old at the time) responded in a phone interview,
“We wanted to do something that was fun to do and look at. And no offense, but as a kid, the Paschal candles just seemed so ugly and drab to me, so I wanted to make something that kids would want to look at and maybe even spark their interest and learn more about.”
Becca (and her friend, Sarah), depicted the biblical record from Creation to Pentecost, relying on readings from the Great Vigil of Easter in The Book of Common Prayer, and their own grasp of the sweep of biblical history. With three-dimensional wax figures, the candle portrayed events that included Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden; Noah’s Ark, complete with animals and a rainbow; the Ten Commandments; Moses parting the Red Sea; and Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. Stories of Jesus included the stable in Bethlehem; the Last Supper; the crown of thorns and the dice of the Crucifixion; the empty tomb; and people of many races crowned with Pentecost tongues of fire.
Chronologically we started at the bottom (of the candle) with darkness (of Creation) and the Garden of Eden and worked our way up, with our favorite stories and landmarks.
Meeting after school and on weekends at home, our coffee table became a work table for three weeks during Lent, covered with tiny pieces of wax, needles, thread, tweezers, and embroidery scissors. Warming the delicate sheets of wax between their hands, they massaged them into animals, people, and plants. Blue wax curls formed waves at the Red Sea; tiny palm leaves lined Jesus’ wax path into Jerusalem remembering the first Palm Sunday. The valley of dry bones was a circle of little bones creating a band around the candle. Abraham’s tent, the burning bush, and children of the world were also included.
The candle made its debut at the Easter Vigil service, coming to light in the midst of darkness to the amazement of all. After the main service on Easter Day, both girls remained in the sanctuary after worship to explain the candle and all its stories to anyone who remained to take a closer look.
The story of salvation had been born in a world of warm hands and set ablaze with Easter fire.
With planning, a creative imagination, dexterity, and a knowledge of the biblical story this could be a fun project for any youth group or individual in your congregation! Today Becca and Sarah are parents of small children (and both professional teachers), equipped to pass The Story on to their own children. The Light of Christ – from one generation to the next.
2 thoughts on “Salvation History on a Paschal Candle”
Excellent way to rethink church traditions that respect roots but incorporate a freshness that liturgical worship often needs. I also love to see young people engaging in their faith! Thanks for sharing this.