What is that red candle and what is its purpose?

This article will use some words that need definition (we might find more detail in future articles):

  • Sanctuary – that area around the Altar (Lord’s Table)

The following are not ECLA practices, but we are exposed to them in discussions and in this article:

  • Reserved sacrament – consecrated bread and wine left after a communion service
  • Tabernacle – a box-like or domed vessel where the reserved sacrament is kept


What is that red candle called?

  • It is called a Sanctuary Lamp.

When was it first used?

  • It all started in the 12th Century with the Roman Catholic Church.

What is its purpose?

  • It was placed near the tabernacle to signify and honor the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.

Some additional thoughts and comments:

  • The modern Roman Catholic church has changed some things:
    • New church buildings generally do not include the Sanctuary Lamp in the general worship space. The theology is that the primary purpose of the worship space is for the assembly of God’s people around Word and Sacrament, not for the contemplation of the reserved sacrament. New church buildings often add a separate chapel or other space which is more appropriate for purposes of contemplating the reserved sacrament.
  • Why do non-Roman Catholic churches use this candle? Two reasons are generally given:
    • To signify the eternal presence of God in the church.
    • Because we’ve always done it.

A response to both reasons for using the Sanctuary Candle in our congregation:

  • “Because we’ve always done it” has no theological basis and is not helpful. Practices that utilize this thinking might be better eliminated, thus removing the temptation to make them sacred practices without meaning.
  • If it represents the “eternal presence of God” because it is lit, what happens when the light goes out or is accidentally extinguished? Does God go away?
  • If it represents the “eternal presence of God” why don’t we have one of these in our homes? Isn’t God eternally present there too?

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