What is it to light a candle?

Lighting a candle for Mack in Votivkirche, Wien. (Middle row, first candle.)

My wife has recently written about the fact that when we travel and there are churches or cathedrals to visit, we light a candle for Mack. We have done this since last summer, the summer after he passed. There are usually hundreds of candles burning there. People light them for many reasons: as a memorial, a petition to God (or in the Catholic Churches to one of the saints), or thanksgiving for a prayer answered.

At the Votivkirche in Vienna, a church built as a dedication by Maximilian, later Emperor of Mexico, in gratitude that his brother, the Emperor Franz Joseph, was not killed in an assassination attempt, there were many stations for candles and a beautiful glassed in chapel for prayer. They also included this pamphlet and prayer about lighting a candle.

“Candles themselves cannot pray, but they can help us to pray. In different ways they can accompany us through our lives.

Each candle is in some way a reflection of that Light which came into darkness of our world in Bethlehem. As the light of the candle brightens the darkness, so our existence is brightened by the life of Jesus.

A candle also reminds us of Baptism, the beginning of our way with Christ and of our call to life, to eternal life.”

Simple guidance and direction, but a wonderful reminder of how important simple symbols are and can be in our lives. The prayer is, I think, also suitably pedagogical and truthful, getting to the nub of our needs and experiences in that moment.

I am lighting a candle.
Perhaps I’m not quite sure how to pray.
In a way this candle is like me,
What I have and what I am.

Through this candle light may You enlighten me in my difficulties and decision making.
Through this candle flame may You burn away the evil in me, that from it the new and good can arise.
Through this candle flame may You warm my heart and teach me to love.


I cannot stay long in Your Church.
With this light a piece of myself remains, I would like You to have it as a gift. Help me continue my prayer in all that I am and do this day.


A candle stands before me.
It burns restlessly,
Sometimes with a small,
Sometimes with a larger flame.

Lord, I too am often restless.

Let me find rest in You.
It gives me light and warmth.

Lord, let me too be light for the world.
It burns away and consumes itself in its service.

Lord, may I also be of service to people.
With this candle I can ignite other candles.

Lord, may I also contribute in this way
That others may being to shine.”

Copyright Vienna International Religious Centre www.virc.at

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