In the night of the Resurrection carried into the church, lit during baptism and standing beside the coffin of the deceased taken to eternal rest . . . Many threads woven into a symbol.
The Paschal Candle is the “light of lights”. Not only because of its size. Lit for the first time during the Easter Vigil liturgy, it carries in it, in the clearest way, all the symbolism of the light of a burning candle. But that’s not all. It’s distinguished from other candles by the symbols inscribed on it and embedded in its wax. So, let’s take a look at the signs mentioned by following the Easter Vigil rites.
Outside the church
The liturgy of the Night of the Resurrection begins outside the church. A fire burns that was lit earlier. The priest blesses it, expressing the request that God also ignite in us the desire for heaven like the burning fire. A new fire – the new life. What is old is burned away . . .
Next the priest inscribes a cross on the Paschal Candle (in practice a cross in already inscribed and it is traced with a stylus) and above it the Greek letter Alpha, then below it the letter Omega, and in between the four arms of the cross the numbers of the year.
The cross is the sign of our salvation; it is a dead tree which thanks to the resurrection has become green with eternal life; it is the sign of victory over sin, death and Satan as well as our hope for eternal life.
The letters Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This a reference to the prophecies of the book of Revelation, in which three times – a little simplified – God and Christ present themselves. The first time at the beginning of the book of Revelation:
I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8).
The second time it is said is at the Seat of the Throne in a vision of the New Jerusalem (the Heavenly Jerusalem):
And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life (Rev 21:6).
Without the last sentence this name of God is repeated in the next chapter:
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 22:13). In all these texts God or more correctly Jesus is shown as having power over everything; who is the Lord of history, the Lord of life and the Just Judge. And it is to this the symbolism of the Alpha and Omega inscribed on the Paschal Candle refers to. In a similar spirit – the presentation of Jesus as Lord over time, over history, and the one to whom judgement of the world belongs – can be understood in the inscribing of the numbers of the current year around the cross. It is His year. Like all the others. God is the one who . . . . is. And not so much who was and will be, but who always has been and constantly comes. He is not just the past and not just a vague future. He is continually here and now; here and now directing the fate of the world. Even though it would seem He has forgotten about the world.
After the priest has inscribed the Paschal Candle and has said:
Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him; and all the ages. To him be glory and power, through every age and for ever. Amen.
Then, where the two beams of the cross intersect and at the four ends, the priest inserts five symbolic nails. This symbolises Christ’s passion: His five wounds. It’s necessary to note here that it was the passion that gave rise to the resurrection and victory over all evil. It is death which rescued us. This is why the priest while inserting the five decorative nail says:
By his holy
and glorious wounds,
may Christ the Lord
and protect us. Amen.
All these symbols are reminders that, despite the world being different, it is Jesus who is always Lord of it and of the whole of history. And the last word belongs to Him. Even when suffering comes from various tribulations, everything finds a solution in the end. The Paschal Candle is therefore the sign of Christ’s reign. And for this reason, for all who believe in Him, He illuminates human darkness with the sign of hope. As the priest lights the Paschal Candle from the previously blessed fire, he reminds us of this in these words:
May the light of Christ rising in glory
dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
The procession with the Paschal Candle
Following these rites, there is the procession of the Paschal Candle entering the church and then the singing of the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet). These confirm and supplement the paschal symbolism. As the procession sets off, the Paschal Candle is the only light carried. The priest stands at the doors of the church which is in darkness and exclaims “The light of Christ”. Into the darkness a flimsy, insignificant light enters. Just as feeble and insignificant it might have seemed at the beginning of what took place two thousand years ago on the night of the resurrection of Jesus. But it is precisely through this event in darkness that evil, sin and the inevitability of death which humanity lived in at that time there appeared a bright flame, and hope shone forth. Understanding the significance of this event through the flame of the Paschal Candle, those gathered respond to the acclamation of the priest: “Thanks be to God!”. The second time the carried Paschal Candle halts is in the middle of the church. And for a second time the priest exclaims: The light of Christ! It soon appears that this is not such a single flimsy flame. At this time the flame from the Paschal Candle is passed from hand to hand, and its light being strengthened by the candles of those present fills the church.