QUAERITUR: the seventh candle

I had a note from a priest with a question:

Dear Father,
I have had a TLM at my Parish, which I celebrate, every Sunday since last November and is going great. But my question is about what I see in the way The Holy Father celebrates Mass in extraordinary form with a cross and 6 candles in the altar, a seventh candle behind the cross because he is Pope. Is this to be an "expected" way of what is to be on the altar for the celebration of Mass?  (ordinary or extraordinary form?)

First, the Holy Father is saying Mass only in the Ordinary Form, so far.  But the use of the seventh candle, next to the Cross at the center of the altar, is a very old custom.

This is not just something that the Roman Pontiff does.

The seventh candle could be used for Pontifical High Mass when celebrated by an Ordinary in his diocese (or by the Pope anywhere, of course).

The seventh candle, placed in the middle and in line with the other six, should be a little higher. This pushes the crucifix a little out of line… which also emphasizes it, in my opinion. Pope Benedict is acutely sensitive to the position of the Cross during Holy Mass.

So… this is an old Mass element enriching the new Mass.

It also rather explodes the Bugnini notion that the old ways of doing things shouldn’t be assumed to be the way we ought to do things in the Novus Ordo.

So, is this to be expected?  I think so.  I think that priests who are preparing for the coming of the bishop to the parish should use the Benedictine arrangement, if they are still having Mass versus populum and be sure to add the seventh candle.

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  1. Tenuto says:

    Many altars are not large enough nowadays to hold seven candles without completely blocking out a view of the celebrant (in perhaps a versus populum celebration). I wonder if it would be appropriate to use four + one for a pontifical Mass…

  2. Tenuto: Many altars are not large enough nowadays to hold seven candles without completely blocking out a view of the celebrant

    Excellent.  Since we are are not at Mass in order to look at the celebrant, or he at the congregation, this is a good thing.

    Let’s block out the celebrant as much as possible and redirect our gaze to what is far more central.

  3. Dan says:

    I agree that it does look a bit awkward to have so many candles on the front of the altar that there is essentially a wall, but it’s a step backward to remove some of the candles. When I see such an arrangement it always seems to beg the question, why not simply ad orientem?

  4. B. says:

    Isn’t the six/seven cadles anyway somthing that is still there from the judaic roots of Christianity (funny that the Vatican-II-people threw it overbard)?
    I read somewhere that in early times mass was often celebrated with a menorah on the altar, and the middle candle was only later replaced by the crucifix. The cathedral of Brunswick has a menorah (picture here: http://www.braunschweigerdom.de/d/media/d2301.jpg ) that is from the 12th century.

  5. Mitch says:

    Let’s go one step further and erect rood screens again in some Churches. Gazing through them to catch a glimpse of the celebrant evokes great mysteries and a sense of wonder. Perhaps that is what the candlesticks are doing is paving the way for a future century with rood screens being acceptable..A fuller circle with continuity….

  6. Papabile says:

    I wouldn’t overlook the fact that the Priest might not know about the Sanctus candle either.

  7. WFW says:

    I think its great that churches are following the pope’s lead and putting candles and crucifix back on the altar but there needs to be some regulation, officially, in my opinion. Bishop Elliot wrote about the use of seven candles in his book “The Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite” but his book is not used by everyone. As with many things in the OF the rules are ambiguous and can cause problems. The tradition of having candles on the altar is new to many people and so some seem to be trying to imitate what they see on TV with out knowing why they’re doing it. A case in point would be this picture taken recently in the Liberian Basilica in Rome–a mass definitely not celebrated by the bishop of the diocese http://www.heralds.ca/mons/big/15.jpg

  8. Jeff says:

    Interestingly, the use of seven candles at a Solemn Mass celebrated by a Bishop was not thrown out following the reforms of Vatican II, in spite opinion to the contrary.

    The Ceremonial of Bishops n. 128, “A acolyte carrying the cross, with the image to the front, walks between seven other acolytes, or at least two, carrying candlesticks with lighted candles.”

    It goes on to say that these candles can be placed on or near the altar.

  9. dcs says:

    A case in point would be this picture taken recently in the Liberian Basilica in Rome—a mass definitely not celebrated by the bishop of the diocese

    I wonder if a Cardinal has a right to use seven candles regardless of where he celebrates Mass? I believe he can pontificate from the throne as long as he is not in the titular church of another Cardinal. And St. Mary Major is a Papal Basilica, not a Cardinatial titular church, and Card. Law, who is pictured, is its archpriest.

    I could be wrong.

  10. Father Totton says:

    Following up on the above comment regarding the Sanctus Candle. I offered a “private” Requiem Mass (in the EF) the other day while visiting the seminary. As I recited: “Sanctus…” one server lit a candle and placed it on the epistle side of the altar. I had heard of the sanctus candle before, but had never seen it used (it is not the custom at my parish). I later surmised it was lit as an indicator to any passers-by that the Blessed SAcrament was present on the altar. The priest to whom I was speaking corrected me, “it is the Sanctus Candle” and since it is on the altar for the entire Eucharistic Prayer, it is clear that its purpose is not to indicate the Presence. Fair enough, but what is the purpose of the “Sanctus Candle” and what is its origin? Anyone?

  11. Berthold says:

    Does this rule actually apply for metropolitan archbishops outside their diocese yet within their province?

  12. Jeff says:

    In Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described, there is a footnote about the seventh candle which says, “C.E., I, xii, 12. The seventh candle is used normally only at Pontifical Solemn Mass of the living sung by the Bishop (at his throne or–if circumstances require–at a fladstool).”

  13. sekman says:

    Fr. Totten,
    I would direct you to this link.

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia,

    “The rubrics of the “Roman Missal” direct that at the Sanctus, even of any private Mass, an additional candle should be lighted and should burn until after the Communion of the priest. This rubric however is much neglected in practice even in Rome itself.”

  14. Martin_B says:

    The use of the seventh candle is quite explicit mentioned in the (old and new) GIRM:

    GIRM 2002:
    117. The altar is to be covered with at least one white cloth. In addition, on or next to the altar are to be placed candlesticks with lighted candles: at least two in any celebration, or even four or six, especially for a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation. If the Diocesan Bishop celebrates, then seven candles should be used. Also on or close to the altar, there is to be a cross with a figure of Christ crucified. The candles and the cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified may also be carried in the Entrance Procession. On the altar itself may be placed the Book of the Gospels, distinct from the book of other readings, unless it is carried in the Entrance Procession.

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