Catholic Activity: Creating a Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) Paschal Candle
Construct a symbolic Easter candle for a religious centerpiece.
As a family we had always used the largest Easter candle, or Lumen Christi, that we could find. When the children grew, they learned to mark it with five cloves in cross form, in memory of the five sacred wounds. The candle stands in a bowl of fresh cut flowers, tokens of new life.
Parents may question whether children will grasp the symbolism of Eastertide, for it is a deep mystery. A child's mind, like soft wax, receives impressions with ease. These first impressions sink deepest and remain longest. Easter symbols have an appeal for children. The Lamb, the Dove, the Lumen Christi candle are simple objects on which to fix a child's imagination. "To invest them with a greater meaning than is usually ascribed to them, is to perform a feat of wonder in the child's eyes, to deepen in him a reverence for the mystery of life."
Children who make their own baptismal candles to set around the family Lumen Christi will learn what to "put on Christ" means as they add layer after layer of wax to the wick of the candle. It is from such work as this that the world will receive the imprint of Christ, restoring all things to Him.
Three great symbols introduce the Vigil Mass: the blessing of the new fire and the Paschal Candle lit from it; the blessing of the baptismal font; and as climax to the Vigil liturgy, the baptism of converts and infants, with the renewal of our own baptismal vows. Pius Parsch tells us that it was Saint Patrick who christianized the age-old Irish custom of holding a fire service on the hill of Tara at the first full moon of spring. Brought to Rome by Irish monks, this custom of blessing the fire on Holy Saturday then spread throughout the Western Church. Because four members of our family were born in Ireland we hold a special love for this blessed fire, symbol of Christ whose grace illumines our hearts.
The Paschal Candle, or Lumen Christi, is a figure of Christ, its five grains of incense symbolizing our Savior's transfigured wounds. The Candle is lit from the Easter fire, blessed and carried in procession through the dark church to the sanctuary where the glorious Exsultet, remembered for its lyric beauty, is sung to announce the mystery of this holy night and the resurrection of our Savior.
Next, the baptismal font is blessed and the Lumen Christi is plunged into it. Then comes the baptism of converts and sometimes of infants, and the renewal of our own baptismal promises to quicken the grace of that sacrament in our souls. The Vigil Mass is then celebrated, heralding the full glory of the feast day on Resurrection morning.
Many families bring home the new fire from the Vigil service and use it to light their home Lumen Christi as well as vigil lights throughout the house. Around the Year with the Trapp Family (Pantheon Books, New York 1955) by Maria Augusta Trapp tells how very beautifully their parish in Stowe, Vermont, carries out this custom. A city family, we can not keep the same fire lighted until the following Good Friday, as they do. But there are many families who will enjoy this custom.
The symbols of the Easter vigil fit beautifully into our homes. The Paschal Candle, signifying Jesus' presence among us, is set in a cut-glass bowl and surrounded by fresh flowers on our dining room table. Easter holy water is added to the first water for the flowers, which are a symbol of new life. Any candle may be used for the Lumen Christi, but it should be as large as possible, because it will be lighted at meal times for forty days to gladden us with its lovely flame. It is a symbol which excites and instructs children. It helps families to glorify our Divine Master, who says, speaking of Himself, "I am the Light of the World."
Families who wish to fix five cloves, in place of the five blessed grains of incense, in cross form on the Paschal Candle may say this prayer from the Vigil service as they do so:
By His wounds,
Holy and glorious,
May He protect us
And preserve us
Who is Christ the Lord,
After the prayer the magnificent Exsultet may be said, or played on one of the Gregorian recordings listed in the Music section of this booklet. This custom alone will make a home "a church in miniature" during Eastertide.
In talking to mothers of large families, we frequently hear the complaint that feast day cooking is not done in large families because the ingredients are frequently so expensive. One feast day recipe which does not fall into that class is the Easter Spice Ring. Baked in a tube pan, the cake serves as a holder for a Lumen Christi candle in the kitchen and keeps surprisingly well and fresh until the end of Easter Week. (See Recipe section)
Activity Source: Family Customs: Easter to Pentecost by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1956