GG asks: “I heard about people who are lighting candles at a certain time every night and reciting an incantation about how the united flames of the candles will eradicate the coronavirus. Is this the same thing Catholics do when they light votive candles?”
No, this is not the same thing. What you are describing is a pagan practice known as candle magic which is used for spell casting and divination.
Candle magic can be very elaborate. First, because different colors represent different outcomes (pink for friendship, purple for ambition, black for negativity and banishment, gold for financial gain, etc.) the right color must be chosen. The candle is then “prepared” by rubbing it with oil and/or herbs in order to establish a “psychic connection” between yourself and the candle. It is during this stage that one transfers their personal intentions into the wax before it is burned. Although the candle itself is not considered magical, it is a “tool” to enact a spell or divine a future outcome which is discerned by “reading” the way the max melts.
This is not even remotely similar to what Catholics do when they light votive candles for a particular intention because, for the Christian, the candle is symbolic of Christ and our call to bring His light into the world.
“…[I]n our liturgy for the Sacrament of Baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Paschal candle, which in turn symbolizes the Paschal mystery, and says to the newly baptized, ‘You have been enlightened by Christ. Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom’,” writes Father William Saunders. “The light then is a symbol of faith, truth, wisdom, virtue, grace, the divine life, charity, the ardor of prayer and the sacred presence which flow from Christ Himself.”
He goes on to explain that some Medieval spiritual writers expanded even more on the symbolic meaning of the lit candle, saying that “…beeswax symbolized the purity of Christ; the wick, the human soul of Christ; and the light, His divinity. Also, the burning candle symbolized a sacrifice, which is made in both the offering of the prayer and the acceptance of the Lord’s will.”
Rather than say an “incantation” over a candle as is done in pagan rituals, the Christian prays to God to ask for a particular intention. The candle is then lit for a number of days, symbolizing the faithful’s intent to keep the prayer before God for the length of time that the candle is burning.
“The symbolism does remind us that prayer is a ‘coming into’ the light of Christ, allowing our souls to be filled with His light, and letting that light burn on in our souls even though we may return to other activities,” Father adds.
The people who are lighting these candles at a certain time of night and uttering a certain incantation appear to be using the candle in a superstitious way and are ascribing a certain power to the ritual that it doesn’t have (except through the agency of demonic spirits).
When compared to the Christian use of a candle, which calls upon the power of a loving God who hears the cries of His people rather than upon demons who are more than happy to see this coronavirus continue, it’s not hard to discern which ritual will be the most effective in stopping this deadly plague.
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