by Adrian Fortescue
Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter
Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.
While this article is taken from a volume written well before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, it is still relevant from an historical perspective, allowing us to study the evolution of the Paschal candle procession.
The Paschal candle itself is now carried by the deacon at the Easter Vigil and all preparation and blessing of the candle occur prior to the procession into the church, except the incensation which occurs after the candle is placed in the stand.
The versicle chanted by the deacon on Holy Saturday as he lights the triple candle.
After the new fire has been blessed outside the church a light is taken from it by an acolyte.
The procession then moves up the church, the deacon in a white dalmatic carrying the triple candle.
Three times the procession stops, the deacon lights one of the candles from the taper and sings, "Lumen Christi," on one note (fa), dropping a minor third (to re) on the last syllable.
The choir answers, "Deo gratias," to the same tone.
Each time it is sung at a higher pitch.
As it is sung, all genuflect.
Arrived at the altar, the deacon begins the blessing of the Paschal Candle (Exsultet).
The meaning of this rite is obvious: a light must be brought from the new fire to the Paschal Candle; out of this the ceremony grew and attracted to itself symbolic meaning, as usual.
The triple candle was at first no doubt, merely a precaution against the light blowing out on the way.
At one time there were only two lights.
The Sarum Consuetudinary (about the year 1210) says: "Let the candle upon the reed be lighted, and let another candle be lighted at the same time, so that the candle upon the reed can be rekindled if it should chance to be blown out." (Thurston, Lent and Holy Week, 416).
A miniature of the eleventh century shows the Paschal Candle being lighted from a double taper (ibid, 419).
The triple candle appears first in the twelfth and fourteenth Roman Ordines (PL, LXXVIII 1076, 1218), about the twelfth century.
Father Thurston suggests a possible connection between it and the old custom of procuring the new fire on three successive days (p. 416).
But precaution against the light blowing out accounts for several candles, and the inevitable mystic symbolism of the number three would naturally apply here too.
Durandus, in his chapter on the Paschal Candle (Rationale, VI 80), does not mention the triple candle.
In the Sarum Rite only one candle was lighted.
While it was carried in procession to the Paschal Candle, a hymn, Inventor rutili dux bone luminis, was sung by two cantors, the choir answering the first verse after each of the others (Missale Sarum, Burntisland, 1861-83, 337).
In the Mozarabic Rite the bishop lights and blesses one candle; while it is brought to the altar an antiphon, Lumen verum illuminans omnem hominem, is sung (Missale Mixtum PL, LXXXV 459).
At Milan, in the middle of the Exsultet a subdeacon goes out and brings back a candle lit from the new fire without any further ceremony.
He hands this to the deacon, who lights the Paschal Candle (and two others) from it, and then goes on with the Exsultet (Missale Ambrosianum, editio typica, Milan 1902, Repertorium at end of the book, p. 40).
THURSTON, Lent and Holy Week (London, 1904), 414-17.
Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.
See New Advent Catholic Website
See also CNP's Lumen Christi (Richard Clark)