If you have gone past the rectory any evening you may have noticed that our usual lamp in the window has been replaced by a single “electric candle” like the ones that many of us use at Christmas time. I wish to explain the meaning of this candle and the origin of window candles in general. I found this article at catholiceducation.org which sums it up nicely:
“Placing lit candles in windows arises from the British persecution against the Catholic Church in Ireland. Since the time King Henry II invaded Ireland in 1171, persecution against the Irish has existed. This persecution increased tremendously in the wake of the Protestant movement, especially under Elizabeth I and then Oliver Cromwell. The logic was simply this: the British conquerors were Protestant and the Irish people were Catholic; therefore, to totally subjugate the Irish people, the British had to crush their religion, and that meant crushing the Catholic Church…During Christmas, every faithful Irish Catholic family hoped to have a priest visit their home so that they could receive the sacraments and in return offer him hospitality. So they would leave their doors unlocked and place candles in the windows to signal a priest that he was welcome and would be safe. Sometimes, a single candle would appear in several windows, or three candles in one window, one each representing Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
— Fr. William Saunders, catholiceducation.org
I became aware of this history some years ago and as I took down my Christmas tree this year, I again thought of the deep meaning of devout Catholics proclaiming their allegiance to Christ and His Church in a society that wished to stifle their free exercise of religion and persuade them away from the tenants of their faith. Centuries later there seem to be disturbing similarities in our own society as the culture of death makes every effort to contradict and silence Catholic teachings. In response to this similarity I opted to keep one window candle, not in protest to any one thing, but to affirm the most important thing: I believe in Jesus Christ and His holy Catholic Church. The candle then is my affirmation of this belief and the hope it offers me, perhaps more succinctly stated in John 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
I will be displaying this candle throughout the year and I invite all who are moved to do so to join me. Pull out your Christmas candles or order them online. I think it could be quite encouraging to see that we are not alone in our faith and hope as we see countless window candles, out of season, shining brightly the Light of Christ found in each household.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Steven Voss