“I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Besides being used to illuminate the places where the early Christians celebrated Mass, candles were also lighted at the tombs of martyrs.
The light signifies our prayer offered in faith coming into the light of God. With the light of faith, we petition our Lord in prayer, or petition the saint to pray with us and for us to the Lord.
The word “vigil” comes from the Latin vigilia and refers to keeping watch. The vigil candle that is lit remains so for a period of time (either a certain number of hours or a few days) and symbolizes how the person desires to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business. It also reminds the individual how the saint is constantly praying for their petitions.
Another word for these candles is a “votive” candle and comes from the Latin votum, meaning promise, dedication or simply prayer. It reinforces the idea that the candles represent our prayers before God.
Similar to incense, the light of the candles is a physical reminder that points our souls to God.
We light them not because we believe our prayers will be better heard by God, but because we need something visual to connect our body and soul.
At the Cathedral, you can find the vigil candles and the smaller votive candles in several places throughout the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.