Candles at Christmas

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: For Christmas Midnight Mass, is it permitted to have a candlelight Mass? I can’t find any text that says we can as an option, but it sure would be beautiful if it is permitted. If it is not permitted, that’s alright; I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
If it is permitted, how would that work? When are the candles lit, and when are the candles blown out?

Thank you for your help and God bless you.


A: There’s no liturgical instruction governing candles at Christmas. However, a church’s dedication candles may be lighted on more solemn celebrations such as this one.

If you’d like to worship by candlelight, you may. Just be sure that there is enough lighting for safety and for the participation of the people at Mass.

There is no ceremonial lighting or extinguishing of candles for Mass. They would fittingly be lit before the Mass and extinguished after.


Q: Just to be clear, I’m asking about people holding candles throughout Midnight Mass. That kind of candlelight service.


A: Well, if you’re asking about liturgical legislation, no, there’s nothing pro or con. But the church does specify hand-held candles for the Presentation and for the Easter Vigil—nothing more.

I usually advise, “Do what it says. Don’t do what it doesn’t say.” And since handheld candles have a connection to those two events, I’m hesitant to advise it on others.

You also have a practical issue of a large number of sleep-deprived people each holding a fire hazard for an exceptionally long period of time beginning at midnight. The lighting of candles at the Presentation and the Easter Vigil both last for a few minutes, not for an hour.

People need their hands to hold participation aids, to steady themselves when changing posture, while making gestures like the sign of the cross, and when receiving communion. A priest, of course, could not join them because of all the ways he uses his hands during Mass.

So, there’s no rule against it, no requirement for a certain kind of candle if they are to be used, but I would advise stationary candles inside the building. Perhaps the electrical lights could be dimmed for extra effect.