The Red Candle

How strange the inside of a Catholic Church must seem to those who visit one for the first time! There are stained glass windows usually displaying symbols of our faith, holy water fonts by all the doors, statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and sometimes even statues of other saints. The walls may be painted with images of the saints or adorned with mosaics. Each Catholic church displays “stations of the cross” plaques spaced along the walls, an altar on a raised platform centered in the front of the Church with a large crucifix on the wall behind the altar and finally a gold or carved wooden box which is most often in the center of the raised platform, just behind the altar. 

Interior of Catholic Church

The gold or wooden box is called the Tabernacle, and it is the most important part of the Church. Usually hanging from the ceiling or on a stand next to the Tabernacle is a red glass candle holder. The red glass holder has a flame burning inside when the Consecrated Hosts are present in the Tabernacle. Catholics believe that the Consecrated Hosts are the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One evening several weeks ago when listening to an online lecture about a now forgotten topic, the presenter mentioned a stoplight – the red light which we see at every major intersection. When the stoplight is red, we know that there may be danger present. We have to wait our turn to proceed through the intersection. After hearing the presenter’s words about the stoplight, my mind mysteriously jumped to the red glass candle holder in the Church. Was there a connection between the red glass candle and the red stoplight even though they are entirely different things? They also have entirely different meanings to us – or should they?

Tabernacle

Several years ago my daughter faced a difficult surgery. Since it was day surgery, I had volunteered to stay at the hospital and bring my daughter home once the surgery was completed. After the staff had taken my daughter to the surgery suite, I was told to wait in the large waiting area where the surgeon would speak to me after the surgery. The waiting room was very crowded and noisy, as it was early in the day and most surgeries were done in the morning.

I was worried about my daughter. The outcome of this dangerous surgery could make my daughter’s life much more difficult – she was and still is a single mom with a young son to raise. I tried to pray while I sat in the waiting area, but the noise level was too high to concentrate. I decided to look for the hospital chapel and spend some time there.

The hospital chapel was a stark and cold place, sparsely furnished with a very contemporary look to it. There were no statues or paintings along the walls, just a series of small windows to let in the winter light. I took a seat in the back row and began to look around, trying to quiet myself so that I could lift my heart in prayer. In the far right corner was a carved wooden box and just above the box was a red glass candle holder. There was light coming from the flaming candle. I began to cry, as I knew then that I was not alone. The Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, was there in the Tabernacle with me to accompany and comfort me, as I waited for the result of my daughter’s surgery.

When I returned to the waiting room, it was nearly empty and now quiet. Some time later the doctor visited with me and said that all had gone well with the surgery and that my daughter would be fine.

Interior of St. Helen’s at Easter

As I pondered the image of the red glass candle last evening while the lecturer continued his discussion, it occurred to me that as I do at a red stoplight, I should stop and wait when I see that there is a flame in the red glass candle holder. Rather than being a sign of danger as the red stoplight is, the red glass candle in our Catholic Church is an invitation. The Lord Jesus is inviting me (and all His children) to “stop and wait” and be quiet in His Presence. No matter what my problems are, no matter how I am feeling, He is with me. I need not be afraid.

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