Last week I was home and looking through some of my old photographs from high school. I went to a Jesuit high school and one of the photos that caught my eye was from one of our monthly Masses. My high school had the practice of gathering weekly for a prayer service and once a month for Mass. After looking at the picture I thought back to the way we celebrated Mass, and I was reminded of one particular practice. Every Mass began with the candlesticks flanking the ambo. Then at the offertory they would be transferred to the altar.
I always thought it was an intriguing practice, obviously meant to highlight the importance of both the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. I have only seen a few other churches do the same thing, but I have seen many churches try to highlight the importance of both ambo and altar through the placement of their candlesticks.
Here are a few of the practices I have seen:
- a few churches, like my high school, transfer the candles from the ambo to the altar at the offertory
- some process candles from the altar to the ambo during the Gospel reading and then back again after the reading has concluded
- others put two candles by both altar and ambo
- then there is the preference for one candle on one side of the altar and another candle on the opposite side of the ambo
- a few churches place the candles on the edge of the sanctuary
- and finally, the most mysterious practice IMO, some churches place two candles by the altar and one by the ambo
Of course the list of practices could go on and on.
While it might seem silly to ask someone where they put their candles, I have come to discover that it says a lot about a community’s theological and liturgical sensibilities.
I know that the GIRM is clear about the placement of candles:
The altar is to be covered with at least one white cloth. In addition, on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation. (GIRM, 117)
But the reality is that there are many parishes that have a different practice then the one outlined in the GIRM. Furthermore, their practice often is based in good theological and liturgical reasons.
So I am curious…where does your community place it’s candles and why?
Please comment below.