Regarding candles…what’s the proper rubric regarding lit and unlit candles on the altar?

Question: Regarding candles…what’s the proper rubric regarding lit and unlit candles on the altar?  (e.g.  Lit by the ambo at liturgy of the word and extinguished when lit of Eucharist starts?  None lit on the altar until liturgy of Eucharist?  Any lit by the Blessed Sacrament?)

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal outlines just a few norms for the use of Candles in the Celebration of the Mass (See nos. 117, 133, and 307). First, candles should always be used in the Entrance Procession and there must be at least two candles lit at every Mass. These candles must be placed on or by the Altar during the Entrance Procession and then, at the time of the Gospel Acclamation, the candles are processed, along with the Book of the Gospels to the Ambo. With regards to when candles are or are not lit, the candles by the Altar should always remain lit through the celebration. However, there is a custom at many churches to light candles by the Ambo for the Liturgy of the Word and then, at the Preparation of the Gifts, to light the candles at the Altar. This process does highlight our procession from Word to Table, but there is no specific reference to the ritual in our rubrics. Finally, a candle should always be lit by the Blessed Sacrament (whether it is located in the Tabernacle or somewhere else).

Julianne Wallace

Julianne Wallace

Julianne E. Wallace is the associate director of faith formation, worship, and ministry at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York. She earned an M.T.S in Word and Worship from the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. and a B.A. in Music Performance from the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. Julianne is passionate about sharing the joy of liturgy with others and helping everyone to worship well.