ASK FATHER: None of your….

From a reader…


I was just wondering if there are any documents that specifically require the composition of liturgical candles to be made of beeswax.
Quite often I see paraffin candles being used for the sacred liturgy, whether traditional or contemporary and this just makes me feel a bit uneasy, since the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and Orthodox only use 100% pure beesewax. What kinds of candles do you you use – and again, which documents support the practice?

Candles are interesting things.  They do more than simply shed light or, in this age of electricity, create an ambiance.  They, like we do, breathe in air.  They move.  They eat.  They die.  We use them as a sacrificial offering, for once they are used, they are gone for good.  They stand in our place when we have intentions to pray for.  We light them to avert storms.  They remind us that, in this dark fallen world, the light of Christ will be victorious.

At one point the Sacred Congregation for Rites said that there had to be at least 51% wax in candles.  You know, beeswax is pretty tough to keep standing up nice and straight in warm weather.  A bit of stearine ensures that your candles are made of stearner stuff.

Currently, the legislation simply speaks of “candles” and does not go into detail about the composition of said candles. The USCCB website notes that, when a question was proposed to the Congregation for Divine Worship (now the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments), in 1974, the response was that no materials are spoken of in the universal law (Notitiae 10:80 (1974), no. 4), and bishops’ conferences have the competence to determine or specify material. The US Bishops’ Conference has made no specification, therefore, it is quite licit to use candles of various sorts. HERE

Oil lamps, which may be used as sanctuary lamps, are not candles, and may not substitute for altar candles. Neither are flashlights, pictures of candles, little electric flickering lights shaped like candles.

So, there is quite a bit of flexibility about the material of the candles, but the vector of the Church’s thought is pretty clear.  Candles should be of a material that is for the most part natural.  A high percentage real bee’s wax is preferred, keeping in mind that that 100% bees wax candles can get droopy in hot weather.  They should produce a good flame without guttering.  Tallow or animal fat is too smokey and smells bad.  I suspect you won’t find many tallow candles.  Wait until the EMP blasts us back to the 18th century.  Heh heh… we’ll use tallow then, legislation or not!  Also, I would like there to be a bit of flexibility from the Congregation in Rome on the use of Roman candles.  ¡Hagan lío!

Nothing makes a church smell “Catholic” more than the lingering scent of incense, some wood polish, and bee’s wax candles burning.  That combination alone is just about enough to get you thinking about converting or going to confession.  Also, when I smell beeswax, I think of kistas… but I digress.

Some years ago, when I was in Norfolk, VA, I was given some homemade beeswax candles made boy who attended the TLM in the area. I used them in my chapel for Mass and there were simply splendid.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. rtjl says:

    aah. I am a big fan of beeswax candles but.. Beeswax candles are very expensive compared to others. The wax is softand pliable when warmed (thus the droopiness) compared to parrafin which is hard and brittle. Beeswas alsot burns cleaner and brighter than parrafin.

    If you are using thicker candles without a follower, beeswax candles can be rolled in at the top as they burn down. Even without a follower there is never a need to trim away wax. Every last bit of wax is consumed during use. After I finish my prayer and I extinguish my candles, the pliability that allows me to roll the tops of my candles in reminds me that my soul must be made similarly pliable in the hands of God. God needs to be able to shape it anyway he chooses and just as the candle is consumed completely by the flame so must I be consumed by love for God and neighbor.

    I buy my beeswax in bulk and make my own candle. That way I have total control of the height, diameter and wick size of my candle. The aroma of honey fills my home when I am making them and a gentle aroma of honey is given off when I use them during prayer.

    Home made beeswax candles make wonderful gifts to special friends.

    If you can’t tell, I am a huge fan of beeswax candles.

  2. SKAY says:

    The wonderful nuns in New Jersey also sell beeswax candles.

  3. Wiktor says:

    Here in Poland most of church “candles” are actually candle-shaped oil lamps. Paschal candles including…

  4. JARay says:

    I kept bees for many years ever since I was a schoolboy. I love honey and beeswax. Sadly, where I live now, I am prevented from keeping bees. My neigbours all think that bees have only one purpose and that is to sting them so they protested at me keeping bees. My understanding is that now the advent of the varroa mite is wiping out stocks of bees in large quantities in many countries. This pest is causing a shortage of beeswax.

  5. APX says:

    Most of my candles are either 51% or 64% beeswax. I have to store my 64% beeswax candles in the freezer otherwise the wax gets soft and sticky. I couldn’t imagine what would happen to beeswax candles in my house. Furthermore, they all seem to come in weird sizes that never fit in standard candle holders so I either have to trim/melt down the ends or build them by dipping them in the wax from melted down stubs.

  6. Lutgardis says:

    I have a question about the proper disposal of candles. We made a family Paschal candle for the first time this year (100% beeswax!) and burned it through Ascension. At that point, half of the candle still remained because I didn’t do a good enough job estimating how many hours we would be burning it. We should be having a baptism coming up in the fall (not in our house, though, of course) but other than that we shouldn’t be lighting it any more, I don’t think?

    It’s not a blessed candle because our old parish didn’t celebrate Candlemas in any special way, but I’m unsure what to do with the remains of the candle to dispose of it reverently. We can’t burn it any more, and I don’t think we should just throw it away, but at the same time, we don’t need to store it forever for no reason. What should we do?

  7. Mike says:

    Ah, the scent of those real candles!
    I remember when a grad student going Mass at Holy Trinity Parish, in Georgetown, which is a pretty but very “congregational” looking Church. But the scent of the wooden pews, plus wax, reminds me of the delightful fragrance of a Belhaven Scottish Ale. But I digress…

  8. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    The Sacred Liturgy appeals to the the whole bodily person, which means all the senses. Smell is the sense that works even when we sleep. The mystics emphasize taste and smell.

  9. Mike says:

    My parish, like Wiktor’s, uses candle-shaped oil lamps. As the “biological solution” is thinning our pews and our exchequer, effecting a change to real candles may require some persuasion.

  10. Gregorius says:

    My parish uses the candle-shaped oil things, and I heard they even burn up the old blessed oils in them. They have used them for decades, and I don’t see them getting changed anytime soon.

    I’d be happy if they just went back to using real votive candles, instead of those silly electric lights.

  11. APX says:

    Gregorious, the switch over to electric votive lights is apparently because some insurance companies won’t insure a church against fire if unsupervised candles are left burning.

    With regards to the Paschal candle question one could melt down the wax and make a new candle. Also, candles can be blessed at anytime of the year, not just at Candlemas.

  12. ReginaMarie says:

    Please also consider supporting the wonderful monks of Mount Tabor at Holy Transfiguration Monastery if purchasing beeswax candles! Candlemaster Brother Andrew is a wonderful soul whom we had the pleasure of meeting when we made a x-country pilgrimage to the monastery a couple of years ago.

  13. Kent Wendler says:

    “Neither are flashlights, pictures of candles, little electric flickering lights shaped like candles.”

    What about in “high oxygen use” places like hospitals or nursing homes when Mass is celebrated there? These places frequently prohibit any open flames. [What does common sense tell you?]

  14. Random Friar says:

    I’ve celebrated Mass in many a nursing home, and even a few hospital rooms, though never in a high oxygen environment. I’ve kept two small tealight battery “candles” in cases where flames would not work (outside, or flames prohibited).

    I made a fun discovery, though: I had a hard time finding candles that fit my Mass kit properly. The local supermarket carried Shabbat candles that did the job just fine, and I’ve found most of them work well.

  15. trad catholic mom says:

    Reminds me of some parishes I’ve been to with little donation boxes for the lighting of candles. Except what you really do is tap a button to turn on the light bulb. Just sad.

    And yet every Orthodox church I’ve ever been in has real beeswax candles and not little electric lights.

  16. albizzi says:

    I was just told yesterday by a member of the family that owns the prestigious Burgundy’s wineyard “Romanée-Conti” (where is grown one of the most expensive wines in the world) how they try to prevent an impending hail storm destroying the grapes:
    They light a blessed candlestickin the cellar as long as the storm’s threat.

  17. laud1645 says:

    Certainly the Paschal candle should have some beeswax, as it is blessed as ‘the work of bees’ (or perhaps this has been removed from modern versions?)

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: blessed candles from Candlemas in connection with prayer vs storms —

    That’s a very common old Catholic practice throughout Europe and beyond. In Poland, one of Our Lady’s Candlemas titles translates as “Mother of God of the Thunder Candle.” (Matka Boska Gromniczna)

    Candlemas candles were also used in times of sickness and death, for a person dying as part of Anointing of the Sick, to scare off wolf packs, when family members were known to be in danger, etc. A very popular sacramental, not as much used by today’s Catholics as it could be.

Comments are closed.