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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > A > Altar Candlesticks

Altar Candlesticks

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An altar-candlestick consists of five parts: the foot, the stem, the knob about the middle of the stem, the bowl to receive the drippings of wax, and the pricket, i.e. the sharp point that terminates the stem on which the candle is fixed. Instead of fixing the candle on the pricket, it is permissible to use a tube in which is put a small candle which is forced to the top of the tube by a spring placed within (Cong. Sac. Rit., 11 May, 1878). In the early days of the Church candlesticks were not placed on the altar though lights were used in the church, and especially near the altar. The chandeliers were either suspended from the ceiling or attached to the side walls, or were placed on pedestals. When the chandeliers were fed with oil they were usually called canthari, when they held candles they went by the name of phari, although frequently these words were applied indiscriminately to either. The lights usually assumed the form of a crown, a cross, a tree, etc., but at times also of real or imaginary animals. We have no documentary evidence that candlesticks were placed on the altar during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice before the tenth century. Leo IV (847-855) declared that only the relics of saints and the book of the Gospels might be placed on the altar (Hamel; De cura pastorum). No writer before the tenth century who treats of the altar makes mention of candlesticks on the altar, but mention is made of acolytes carrying candlesticks, which, however, were placed on the floor of the sanctuary or near the corners of the altar, as is still the custom in the Eastern Church. Probably in the twelfth century, and certainly in the thirteenth, lights were placed on the altar; for Durandus (Rationale, I, iii, 27) says "that at both corners of the altar a candlestick is placed to signify the joy of two Peoples who rejoiced at the birth of Christ", and "the cross is placed on the altar between two candlesticks." The custom of placing candlesticks and candles on the altar became general in the sixteenth century. Down to that time only two were ordinarily used, but on solemn feasts four or six. At present more are used, but the rubric of the missal (20) prescribes only two, one at each side of the cross, at least at a low Mass. These candlesticks and their candles must be placed on the altar, their place cannot be taken by two brackets attached to the superstructural steps of the altar, or affixed to the wall (Cong. Sac. Rit., 16 September, 1865). According to the "Caeremoniale Episcoporum" (I, xii, 11), there should be on the high altar six candlesticks and candles of various sizes, the highest of which should be near the cross. If all six be of the same size they may be placed on different elevations, so as to produce the same effect; a custom, however, has been introduced of having them at the same height and this is now permissible (Cong. Sac. Rit. 21 July, 1855). On the other altars of the church there should be at least two candlesticks, but usually four are used; on the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, if the Blessed Sacrament is not kept on the high altar, there should regularly be six. The Roman Missal (Rubr. 20) says also that a third candlestick and candle should be placed at the epistle side, and that this extra candle should be lighted at low Masses from the consecration to the consumption of the Precious Blood. This rubric is only directive (9 June, 1899). The third light is not placed on the altar itself, but on the credence, or on the step of the altar at the place where the altar-boy kneels. A bracket affixed to the wall may be used for this candlestick (Ephem. Lit., IX, 34, 1875). The candlesticks may be made of any kind of metal or even of wood, gilded or silvered, but on Good Friday silvered ones may not be used (Caerem. Episc., II, xxv, 2). The candlesticks destined for the ornamentation of the altar are not to be used around the bier at funerals, or around the catafalque at the commemoration of the dead (Rit. Rom., VI, i, 6), during Mass or other functions, at least on solemn feasts, they cannot be covered with a cloth or veil (Cong. Sac. Rit., 12 September, 1857; 16 September, 1865). Candelabra holding several candles cannot be used for the candlesticks prescribed by the Rubrics (Cong. Sac. Rit., 16 September, 1865).


About this page

APA citation. Schulte, A.J. (1907). Altar Candlesticks. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01350a.htm

MLA citation. Schulte, Augustin Joseph. "Altar Candlesticks." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01350a.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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