Throughout Church history, candles have always had symbolic meaning. Scripture is filled with references to light and holy fire. In John 1, Christ is called the “light of men,” and in John 8:12, Jesus says “I am the light of the world.”
Many churches, shrines, and chapels have designated areas next to sacred images with small candles that you can light. Depending on the candles and their setting, these candles may continue burning for a few hours or even up to a week. Churches often ask that you leave a small donation to cover the cost of the candle.
When you light one of these candles, you can offer a prayer or intention along with it. You can pray for a special request, for loved ones, those who are sick or suffering, or simply to thank God for His blessing.
In The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions, Mike Aquilina and Regis J. Flaherty explain that
The lit candle symbolizes your prayer. The candle then keeps vigil in the church or shrine when you cannot physically be present.
Vigil candles are also beautiful because seeing our candles and our offertory prayers being offered with those of our brothers and sisters in Christ reminds us that we are never truly alone. Together, all of our small prayers form a great flame.
Mike Aquilina and Regis J. Flaherty’s The How-To Book of Catholic Devotions answers questions about Catholicism, the Mass, prayer, and other aspects of our faith that we never even thought to ask in the first place! This handy book is a practical guide to understanding how we ought to live as Catholics devoted to Christ. You can get your own copy here.