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Paschal candle: different traditions

07 August 2020

Email if you have any answers to the questions, below


When I was a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral in the 1970s, a curious liturgical tradition took place during the eucharist on Ascension Day. At the words in the Nicene Creed “And ascended into heaven”, a server would extinguish the Paschal candle. Where did this tradition originate? Does it come from Percy Dearmer and St Mary’s, Primrose Hill? . . . [Answers, 31 July]


Your answers: 

I am not aware of any widespread following of this practice (however, see below). The practice of the Roman Rite, pre-reform of the liturgy, was to extinguish the candle after the First Gospel of The Mass on Ascension Day. This practice was followed in many Anglican churches. Before c. 1100 there were broadly three schools of thought. The first extinguished the candle at the end of Easter Day. The second extinguished the candle at the end of Easter week and the third lit the candle at various times until the period around the Ascension. This third time later became the usual practice.

In most churches the candle was extinguished after the First Gospel on Ascension Day. This symbolised the disappearance of the Risen Christ from human sight. However, there were variations in its extinguishing such as the Friday after the Ascension (Salisbury and Exeter), the Vigil of Pentecost (Rouen, Paris), Compline of Pentecost (Nantes), and at the phrase “and ascended into heaven” in the Ascension Day Gospel at Soissons and Cahors.

The Paschal candle was not a priority of Percy Dearmer. With no mention of it in the Book of Common Prayer, he saw it simply as an ornament to mark the season.

The reform of the Roman Rite in the 1950s and beyond wished to make the point that, although the Risen Christ has ascended, his presence is with us always. Currently in Common Worship and the Roman Rite, the Paschal candle remains lit until Pentecost; it is extinguished at the end of mass in the Roman Rite, and at the end of the services for the day in Common Worship (which may be the end of the eucharist).

The Gospel of the Roman Missal, based on the Vulgate, contained the phrase from St Mark’s Gospel, “assumptus est in coelum” (ascended into heaven). The BCP Gospel (following KJV) has “he was received up”. Perhaps the Provost (as he was then) considered that the words in the Creed better expressed the event.

(The Revd) John Chamberlin
North Shields, Tyne and Wear

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