Light the Easter Fire?

One of the most beautiful things about the Catholic Church is the use of symbols to communicate meaning. Fire, one of the most frequently used symbols in our faith, communicates a number of different meanings: Holy Spirit, purification, or bring light into darkness. As we approach Easter and the end of Lent we use this symbol of fire in a moving ritual called “The Service of Light” which happens on Holy Saturday night at the Easter Vigil. This leads to the question, “Why do Catholics light the Easter fire?”

The Service of Light happens directly before the beginning of the Easter Vigil, and it starts outside at a designated area to start a fire. As people come into church they are given an unlit candle, and the church itself is completely dark, which gives the impression we gather in darkness still following the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Then before the Mass begins people are invited to come outside to see the lighting of the Easter fire.

Then the Service of Light begins with a greeting of the priest outside, the lighting of the Easter fire, and finally the fire is blessed. Then the Paschal Candle is blessed, marked with the sign of the cross and year, and then finally lit. The Paschal Candle, which is the giant candle that stands near the baptismal font, symbolizes “light of Christ, rising in glory,” scattering the “darkness of our hearts and minds.” “Above all, the Paschal Candle should be a genuine candle, the pre-eminent symbol of the light of Christ.” ( Every year a new Paschal Candle is purchased for the Easter Vigil.

After the Paschal Candle is lit then the procession into church begins. The member holding the Paschal enters in first followed by the servers with incense, readers, the priest, and the people outside the church. The following of the light of the Paschal Candle is symbolic of the Israelites who followed the pillar of fire at night as they were leaving Egypt. (Exodus 13: 17-22).

As they enter the only light you can see is the Paschal Candle. Next, they stop at the gathering area in back of church where the priest lights his candle and we all sing a song. Then the procession continues until the Paschal candle reaches the middle of the isle. Then all the candles are lit from the Paschal Candle. Following the people in front the light is passed throughout the church until the church is lit by everyone who is holding a candle. The procession continues until then everyone is in their proper places and the people have found their spots in church.

This ritual inevitably shows how Jesus is the Light of Christ. His resurrection brings light to a world of darkness. That light shines in each individual showing us we have the responsibility to keep that light burning brightly for others to see.

I invite you and your families to come experience this ritual for yourself on Saturday April 15th at the Easter Vigil which takes place at 8:00 PM. Let the symbols speak to you and watch as the Light of Christ is brought into the hearts of all. Hope to see you all there!