Question Box: Life of the Easter/Paschal candle


By Fr. Thom Hennen
Question Box

How often should the Easter candle be replaced? How may the old Easter candle be disposed of or can it continue to be used?

Fr. Hennen

Timely question! First, it may be helpful to review the Service of Light or Lucernarium at the Vigil, in which the Easter candle is prepared and lit from the newly blessed Easter fire. This is one of my favorite parts of this mother of all Catholic liturgies.

After dusk on Holy Saturday we gather outside the church (if possible) around a blazing fire. Hopefully, this is accomplished without losing any eyebrows or having to stop, drop and roll. I do advise keeping a fire extinguisher close at hand, just in case. The priest then blesses the fire and prepares the Easter or Paschal candle.


Ideally, the rite envisions that the priest would actually carve into the candle the vertical and horizontal lines of the cross, the alpha and the omega, and the year with a stylus. I have never actually seen this done and this kind of artisanry is probably not easily pulled off by most priests, let alone outside, in the dark, in the wind with a kitchen knife. Also, most parishes purchase their Easter candle pre-prepared. Here at the cathedral this year I simply traced these elements over the pre-applied wax sigils on the candle with a fancy letter opener as a stylus.

The prayer that accompanies this action is truly beautiful: “Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever. Amen.” Then, the priest inserts five grains of incense (usually embedded in some wax on the end of a nail) and says, “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord guard us and protect us. Amen.”

As to the candle itself, the instruction of the Church states: “This candle should be made of wax, never be artificial, be renewed each year, be only one in number, and be of sufficiently large size that it may convey the truth that Christ is the light of the world.”

I know that it is a rather large and expensive candle and, for that reason, many parishes have gotten into the habit of reusing the same candle for several years, just changing the year on the candle. This may be the case especially in smaller parishes where there are fewer times (ex. funerals, baptisms) when the Paschal candle is lit. Still, as we can see from the instruction, this is not to be done. Much to the jubilation of the religious goods suppliers and to the chagrin of parish finance councils everywhere, it should be a new candle every year.

What are you supposed to do with the old candles? Everyone knows you pile them in a dusty corner of the sacristy or on top of a cabinet to be rediscovered by future generations who will be just as befuddled about what to do with them. In all seriousness, some religious goods suppliers may buy them back (or at least they used to) and recycle the wax. Some parishes cut down the candle into smaller candles to be used for their own altar candles or to give to parishioners to take home for their own devotional use. The important thing is that symbol is destroyed (not left whole or decorated with the symbols and the year) and that (as blessed object or sacramental) it is properly and reverently disposed of — which, for the candle, ideally means burning. Happy Easter!

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to

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