The red candle near the altar

13 comments

It’s quite beautiful how many ornate, interesting, priceless things can be found in Catholic Churches. But the meaning behind all of them is actually the most beautiful part.

A fairly simple, but yet important, one of these symbolic things is that of the red candle found near the tabernacle (which is usually found behind the altar, but has been moved to other areas in many churches now).

This candle, when lit, is what tells us that the nearby tabernacle currently contains the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist (prompting genuflection and reverence).

If it is not lit, that means that the tabernacle is empty (therefore genuflection is not appropriate).

So look for the red candle first. It will tell you one of the most important pieces of information you need to know when entering a Catholic church.

13 comments Add comment

Brian Walsh June 4, 2009 at 3:47 pm

I think most people think they are genuflecting to the altar or maybe just the front of the Church… For much of my life I had no idea

Also, what is up with the half committed genuflection? You know the people that just kneel down only half way or less to the floor due to laziness… like a little curtsy. It looks silly!

Brian Walsh June 4, 2009 at 3:48 pm

I think most people think they are genuflecting to the altar or maybe just the front of the Church… For much of my life I had no idea.

Also, what is up with the half committed genuflection? You know the people that just kneel down only half way or less to the floor due to laziness… like a little curtsy. It looks silly!

B.W.A.D. June 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Very good post. Though, whenever the candle is not lit, or during the Triduum when Christ is not present in the tabernacle, I still usually reverence (by bowing, typically) the altar out of respect for the Holy Sacrifice that takes place daily upon it.

Erika June 4, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I think it’s a shame when churches remove the tabernacle from behind the altar, or worse yet, from the sanctuary itself. I wonder if those churches still have the red candle lit?

Artie June 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Some people may find this a bit extreme, but I will not belong to a Parish that does not have a crucifix on the altar or at least visibly present hanging behind the altar during mass.

Some may not know this but it is a requirement. The risen Jesus Christ is great but not appropriate for Mass.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia..

a crucifix must be placed on the altar during Mass. To this rule there are two exceptions:

* when the Crucifixion is the principal part of the altarpiece or picture behind the altar. (We advisedly say the principal part of the altarpiece or picture, for if the picture represents a saint, e.g. St. Francis Xavier holding a crucifix in his hand, or St. Thomas kneeling before the cross, even if the cross be large, such a picture is not sufficient to take the place of the altar-crucifix — see Ephem. Lit., 1893, VII, 408) and

* when the Most Blessed Sacrament is exposed.

LaunaS June 5, 2009 at 12:29 am

Erika, I agree it doesn’t feel quite right that the tabernacle is no longer behind the altar. That’s one of the things I love about Daily Mass on EWTN.

However, I was under the impression that the Church is going in the direction of having a separate chapel for the Blessed Sacrament (completely removed from the sanctuary) for the purpose of improving the sense of reverence and intimacy. Matt – can you clarify?

Thanks for this post!

Mark Szewczak July 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Resonding to LauraS: When I visited the Basillica of St. Peter in Rome, the Blessed Sacrament was reserved in a side chapel and not at the main altar. It was a few years ago and I do not know if that is still the case. For me it is important that the Lord is reserved somewhere in the church if possible.

barb February 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Who can lit the red candle if the priest is in the hospital????

Judie March 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm

I agree with the comment “”Also, what is up with the half committed genuflection? You know the people that just kneel down only half way or less to the floor due to laziness… like a little curtsy. It looks silly!””
Worse than that are the people that are young enough & limber enough & just don’t bother genuflecting at all. I have always considered it a great honor to say Good Morning to God upon entering for Mass to give Him the respect & honor to genuflect. I am 65 years old & have had 2 spine surgeries & a couple of nasty knee’s now but I still genuflect & will as long as I can. In our adoration chapel I remain on both knee’s for as long as I can to give my respect & show my love to God’s present Eucharist.

Paul Averill April 27, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Is their guidelines for the red candle has to always is on the left side of the alter?

Paul Averill April 28, 2013 at 6:57 pm

Or on the right side of the alter

Paul Averill June 26, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Does red candle have to be on left or right side of alter as we face the alter

Paul Averill October 1, 2013 at 10:43 am

I guess no one knows the answer to my ?6/23/2013

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