Here’s a liturgical puzzle for you. At least I find it puzzling.
There’s a little rubric for the Easter Vigil, both in the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms of the Mass:
Ad Evangelium non portantur luminaria, sed tantum incensum.
Literally, “candles are not carried at the Gospel, only incense.”
Fortescue expands on this but offers no explanation: “At the Gospel the acolytes stand on either side of the subdeacon or lectern, in their usual place, but do not hold candles. Incense is used as usual.” (The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, p.352)
That is the rule. The question is, why no candles at the Gospel?
I have seen and heard two explanations for this.
The first is to avoid ‘competing’ with the Paschal Candle, which already provides sufficient light and is supposed to be the main focus of the rite. I find this a bit hard to believe, given that other candles in the sanctuary are already lighted, as are the main church lights.
The second comes from Sir Walter Kirkham Blount (died in 1717), whose 1687 book The Compleat Office of the Holy Week: with Notes and Explications I cited in this post.
In his discussion of the Vigil (p. 295), he writes:
No Tapers are carried, when the Gospel is read; to note unto us, that Christ’s Resurrection (who is the True Light of the World) was not, as yet, manifested to men.
But Incense is used, to represent the Perfumes prepared by the three Maries, to anoint our Saviours Body.
If this is so, then why are the Gospel candles not withheld until Ascension or even Pentecost?
What is more, the two explanations seem to clash. The first suggests that the light of the Pascal Candle is so central (and hence so strong) that no other candle should be set against it. The second suggests that Christ is still, in some sense, ‘hidden’, even after the resurrection.
Which do you believe? Do you know any reliable sources we can use to check this? Any other explanations?