I recently moved to North Carolina from the New Orleans area and have found that the vigil candles in the Daily Mass Chapel are electric. Am I being too much of a traditionalist by wanting actual wax candles to light. Pressing a button and having a lightbuld on a timer just seems kind of, I don’t know, wrong.
A lot depends on fire codes, rather than tradition. And the “candle” only indicates that a prayer has been offered; the candle itself means nothing.
In our parish, after the congregation has left the building, the ushers go to the lit (real) candles and snuff them out. They’re not supposed to leave the building until they make sure nothing is still burning.
Fire codes and insurance rates!
I too am disappointed with some parishes using electronic “candles” instead of real ones. There is symbolism in the candle. My last RC parish doesn’t have a place to light candles because its an old building and it will be a fire hazard.
I have the same feeling about those clicky fire starters that our parish uses (thank goodness on real candles).
Electric candles make me uneasy as well. Our parish uses oil “candles.” These are plastic shells with a glass vial filled with oil. They look exactly like real candles and are lit and extinguished like wax candles. They were adopted to save money.
I do not like the electric candles either.
I’ve been to parishes with the electric candles too. So sad.
We used to have real candles. Now we have none (since we got a new pastor). More than the light, I miss the smell. There is something about the smell of warm beeswax that says “santuary”.
I know of two people who were literally set on fire by votive candles. On woman had her hair set on first while leaning over to light a candle on the top shelf and a man whose coat sleeve caught fire. Stories like this may be far and few between but they are enough for municipalities to enact fire codes to ban real candles and for insurance companies to raise rates. Parishes pay a big for insurance as it is and every bit helps.
On the other hand I have heard of a church where the electrical connection in the votive candles started a fire.
For the liturgy, you should only find real candles:
From the USCCB web site.
May oil candles be used during the liturgy? In my parish only wax candles are used.
The Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter addressed this concern in the November 1984 issue. The following is an excerpt from that issue.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states the following with regard to the use of candles: "The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration (cf.no.117), are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary so that the whole may be well balanced and not interfere with the faithful's clear view of what takes place on the altar or what is placed on it" In an interpretation of the previous GIRM 269, the Congregation for Divine Worship stated the following in 1974: The GIRM prescribes candles for Mass ‘as a sign of reverence and festiveness'. But is makes no further determination regarding the material of their composition, except in the case of the sanctuary lamp, the fuel for which must be oil or wax (see Holy Communion and Worship Outside Mass, Introduction, no. 11). The faculty that the conferences of bishops possess to choose suitable materials for sacred furnishings applies, therefore, to the candles for Mass. That faculty is that they are appropriate for sacred use. Candles intended only for liturgical use should be made of material that can provide a living flame without being smoky or noxious and that does not stain the altar cloths and coverings. Electrical bulbs are banned in the interest of safeguarding authenticity and the full symbolism of light" (Notitiae 10  80, no. 4; see Liturgy Documentary Series 2: General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 112-113).
Since the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has never employed the above-noted faculty to permit the use of materials other than wax in the production of candles, the use of such other material either in substitutes for or in imitations of candles is not permitted in the liturgy. Therefore, oil lamps may be used only "in the case of the sanctuary lamp," as indicated above. Candles made of wax are to be used in the celebration of the Mass and other liturgical rites. Furthermore, because of their very nature, imitations of candles should not be used in the liturgy as, for example, "permanent" paschal candles, etc. Nor should electrical bulbs be used in liturgical celebration. In the interests of authenticity and symbolism, it is likewise most unfitting that so-called vigil lights be used for devotional purposes.
Of course, votive candles are another thing.
Votive candles are not a liturgical use of candles. Liturgy involves the Mass, Sacraments, and devotions like Benediction. The USCCB reference is not about votive “cancles”.
I think Evan is well aware of that, given his concluding statement:
“Of course, votive candles are another thing.”
Personally I’m kind of bummed out by the chandeliers in church. Something about using electricity at all just seems so… wrong.
Thanks for all the replies. One thing that I love about my Catholic faith is that our traditions and rituals go back to the very begining of Christianity. I also love that we worship with ALL of our senses. Sometimes in the Mass I feel as if I am transported back to the early church and I can picture myself in some ancient catacomb… the smell of the insense burning, the beautiful prayers being sung and rising up to the heavens, the candles flickering… it’s all so amazing that we have been worshiping in the same way for centuries!!! It’s kinda anticlimactic to push a button!
If they mean nothing then why why have them at all, electric or wax?
Personally, I don’t buy the fire code explanation as obviously real candles are allowed in churches. We use them all the time, just not for personal devotion anymore. Rather, I think it is what I was told by members of the altar society when I asked them about this development in one of our previous parishes. I was told that people were not putting the right amount of money in the box and so they were costing the parish too much money. That and the insurance rates situation sound much more likely to me.
Whatever the reason though I will not use them. There is absolutely nothing devotional or spiritual about an electronic machine sucking in a bill and then pushing a button. Click! No thanks. I have real candles at home, and even if one cannot practice Catholicism in churches I can still do so in private.
I think the difference is that when we use candles during Mass and such, there are always people there to watch them. If a fire somehow started, it would be quickly noticed and dealt with. Vigil candles are often left unattended and if they somehow started a fire, it could be a while before someone noticed.
I don’t believe electric lights are allowed for sanctuary lamps, and don’t they burn before and after Mass? I have never seen or heard anything from anyone in the know to demonstrate that governments in the U.S. actually restrict when a church can burn a candle. It may be so in some places, but I have doubts, especially given the extensive distribution of these pseudo-candles. I am more inclined to suspect a choice is being made to use other options as a way to cut costs or save money. This was admitted in our previous parish when such a change was made. Obviously, there may be insurance savings if a church opts not to have votive candles. Also, electric lights are likely cheaper to operate than wax candles are to buy, meaning more money goes directly to the coffers, so to speak. Lastly, the electronic devices are capable of insuring that the proper amount of money is paid for the opportunity to pray, (which is of course what people are doing since no candle is being bought).
Its not the government that restricts, its probably the insurance company.
First of all the bishops statement must be read in its proper context. The Conference cannot dictate to the local bishop. The statement is what the bishops agreed to at the time that it was written. Any bishop who has taken over a diocese, after the document was written, was not part of the agreement. Therefore, he is not bound to it. Any bishop who was part of the agreement and changes his mind is not bound to it. What is required is that there be an actual flame for liturgical use. The individual bishop and pastor cannot overrule that.
As to any other candles, what other people have said about fire codes, insurance companies, economics and even weather all play a factor.
Fire codes in some municipalities are very strict. You cannot leave an open flame unattended. They will usually make a concession for the sanctuary lamp used in Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues, but that’s about it. In other places it’s not the fire code, but the insurance company. Your premium sky rockets, if you have open flames that are unattended. If you don’t have smoke detectors and sprinklers it sky rockets even higher. Parishes cannot afford these high premiums. These were not in place 50 years ago. But we’re not living 50-years ago. Just as your car insurance goes up because your credit score went down, when this was not the case 50-years ago, so it happens with property insurance. The rules change and we have no control over those rules. You cannot get certain permits unless you have the proper insurance and you meet the safety codes.
Then there is cost. The manufacturers are charging a lot more money for these candles. The old $1.00 candle costs $3.00. Having worked in a parish for many years, I remember when the cost went up. I also remember the problems involved in storage. You had to store these candles at the right temperature or they melted. We were in the tropics without AC. Special closets were built for them. Then you had to store the glass until the company came to pick up the empty glass and bring you fresh candles. These services became cost prohibitive and storage was always a challenge. It always seems that no matter how big you build your church, you never have enough storage. It’s like your family home. The more closets you have, the more junk you find to store.
Those places that use wax candles use them only during liturgy. It’s less expensive. Requires less storage space and your insurance premiums go down and the Fire Marshall is not on your back. These conditions are not universal. In some countries there is no such thing as property insurance or a Fire Marshall. Or if there is, they don’t have the same rules that many of our cities and counties have.
Personally, I like the votive candles. After having been stationed in a parish and knowing the changes that have taken place over the years, I understand why they have fallen into disuse. I was stationed in Florida and in Maryland. Florida’s property insurance was three times that of Maryland. I quickly found out that if you live in Tornado Alley or the Hurricane Region, you’re going to pay a lot of money in property insurance and have many restrictions put on you by the insurance company and the local government. How people manage to insure their homes in those places is beyond me, never mind a church or chapel. Don’t even think of putting votive candles in a school or hospital chapel. The insurance company and Fire Marshall will clobber you with very expensive requirements. I ran two schools. I’m talking from first-hand experience.
Br. JR, OSF