How many candles on the altar?

Discussion in 'Liturgy, and Book of Common Prayer' started by Cooper, Sep 5, 2020.

  1. Cooper

    Cooper Active Member Anglican

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    How any candles on the altar?

    This is a question I have tossed about for many decades. Not being a member of the clergy, I have never had any formal education or training on the number of candles on the altar.

    I would appreciate some comments on the significance.

    :book:

    Cooper
     
  2. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    My first reaction to the question, and the necessity of considering the issue is to ask another question.

    How many buttons should one have on a cassock?

    Symbolism though is a means of education, so even the number of candles on an altar can be useful as a visual aid and reminder of theological concepts and the future hopes of believers.

    6 candles in front of the reredos is thought to signify the fact that Christ has not yet returned.
    7 would signify Christ has finally arrived and his reign on earth begun. The number 6 signifying non-completion, the number 7 signifying completion and perfection.

    Actually on the altar there are usually two, one at the South and one at the north end. The south one is sometimes called the Gospel candle.

    When lighting them the south one is lit first, then the north, signifying that the gospel came to England from the south. When extinguishing them the north is quenched first and then the south.

    When standard candles before the alter are used, they are lit going anti clockwise and extinguished going clockwise, once again perhaps signifying the spread of the Gospel to England.

    If it is not actually done this way, but some other way, or even haphazard, who cares? I doubt if Jesus does. :laugh: The real reason they were there was so that the priest could see to read the liturgy and so that the people could see the priest.

    With much better electric lighting they could all be dispensed with entirely nowadays, but they look good so why not keep them?

    . :worship: :book:
     
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2020
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  3. Liturgyworks

    Liturgyworks Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Rev. Percy Dearmer argued in The Parson’s Handbook that in the traditional English rites, there should be no more than two candles on the altar.

    The traditional Roman Rite, also known as the Tridentine Mass, which has been widely copied by Anglo Catholics other than Dearmer, specifies two candles for a low mass celebrated by a priest, four candles for a low mass celebrated by a bishop or a high mass (missa cantata) celebrated by a priest, six candles for a solemn high mass (in which the priest is assisted by a deacon and subdeacon), and seven candles for a pontifical solemn high mass, where the principle celebrant is a bishop. Anglicans and modern day Catholics are less strict about this, and six candles seems a common number.

    In the Eastern Orthodox church, only beeswax candles are allowed, and because they are an animal product, they are not allowed in the altar (the area behind the iconostasis). Instead, most commonly, there is a candelabra, the name for which I forget, with seven oil lamps, all of which are normally lit. At a Greek Orthodox monastery I saw a very different sort of candelabra with three lamps lit.

    Coptic Christians I have seen use two candles on the altar, and also what looked like an Eastern Orthodox candleabra but with only three candles lit. Syriac Orthodox always seem to light two lamps or candles on their altars (which tend to be narrow and covered with an ornate canopy made of marble or stone). Armenian Orthodox altars tend to look like Roman Rite altars.

    ~

    In general, most Anglican churches have either two, six or seven lights on the altar, or alternately candleholders placed behind the altar. Three candles is not unknown. The unusual altar of St. Stephen Walbrook uses two candles as per Percy Dearmer’s views (many would object to that rennovation as destructive, but all the historic fittings except the pews were preserved, whereas I recently saw a BBC program praising a rural church of Gothic origins which completely gutted its elegant, historical interior in favor of an ugly modern interior with overbright colors and a cafe where one would expect a choir loft to be). They went from six candles of an elegant design to a pair of ugly colored candles almost as large as Paschal candles, however, two candles are entirely appropriate in Anglican churches and represent the tradition according to Percy Dearmer. There are a few other aspects of traditional English altars, including cloth hangings on either side, which are rare.

    Of late there has also been a distressimg trend in Anglican cathedrals for extremely ugly modern frontals. If you visit the Wikipedia articles on the cathedrals you will see them frequently; Winchester and Gloucester come to mind, and even worse, these are on the high altar, as well as the altar all too often setup in front of the chancel screen. Presumanly they buy these from the same people who make the vestments seen on the classic Bad Vestments blog, and the giant Paper Mache puppets of doom that appear all too frequently in some of the stranger liturgies.
     
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  4. Lowly Layman

    Lowly Layman Well-Known Member

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    Personal experience: 2 candles on the altar of parish churches. Cathedrals often have more, though I've never counted how many.
     
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  5. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    Some pictures from around my diocese.
    [​IMG]

    The Archbishop's chapel.

    [​IMG]

    Our most Anglo-Catholic parish.

    [​IMG]

    A small Anglo-Catholic mission.

    [​IMG]

    My home parish.
     
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  6. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    The traditional Anglican parishes have two candles. There is no significance intrinsically. Some roman parishes (used to) have six candles, and the anglo-catholics had started setting up their six to mirror that; but either format has no intrinsic significance, you are just virtue-signaling as to which camp (traditional Anglican, or anglo-catholic), the parish belongs to.
     
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  7. Rexlion

    Rexlion Well-Known Member

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    Sort of a contest, perhaps... a show of greater piety to have more? "Our altar has more candles than your altar!" :laugh: I wonder how many candles the Orthodox use?
     
  8. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    There is a subtleness in understanding here, when you look at the images posted by Fr Shane. The sets of six candles are technically not on the Altar but rather on the reredos shelf behind the Altar. In two of the images there is a third candle on the Altar, which I would imagine may well be an indication that the Bishop was celebrating. There may however be some other cause for the third light such as a particular intention for the day.

    An orthodox friend of mine used to say, 'if it's got a wick, light it!'. They have never been know for restraint in these matters.
     
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  9. Cooper

    Cooper Active Member Anglican

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    Shane,

    Thank you for posting the photos of Anglo Catholic altars.
     
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  10. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    Botolph is correct; the 3rd candle in some of the pics is the bishop's candle.

    Some other notable details: the reliquary on the Archbishop's reredos; the tabernacles in the second and third pics; the presence lamp in the the third pic; the icons in the first and third pics. And I noticed earlier that we didn't have the frontal on in my home church. We have a frontal that matches exactly the burse and veil on the chalice and paten.

    I dislike flowers or plants directly on the altar.
     
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  11. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    Flowers in Flower Pots and vases!
     
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  12. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I notice all of these examples feature an East facing celbrant, i.e. the priest celebrates with his back to the congregation, a practice which has thankfully become less popular in the Anglican Church generally.

    The idea that the priest is a commanding officer facing Christ, his general or sovereign, in the sacraments before him on the altar, with his 'regiment' behind him on parade, has been replaced by the much more ancient early church notion, that the priest is a father of a family, a shepherd of a flock, gathered around Christ in the sacraments, facing the flock that he is responsible for, standing behind the altar as Christ stands behind the trestle table in the famous Last Supper fresco.

    Pot Plants, (as illustrated in one of these examples), in such a scenario would make him look like Adam guiltily peering through the undergrowth wearing nothing but fig leaf underpants. Most incongruous. :laugh:
    .
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2020
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  13. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    The advantage of ad-orientum is priest and people have one focus, the liturgy is offered to God, not performed for the people.
     
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  14. Stalwart

    Stalwart Well-Known Member Anglican

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    Well, the practice of 'facing the people' was introduced by the Roman Church int he 1960s. I am surprised you are in support of this evidently heterodox practice. All it has done is to 'secularize' the altar, and make the worship of the church be reduced to a bunch of people talking to each other. The traditional Anglican practice is for the people to directly speak to God, which is why they faced in one direction. People facing each other has never been practiced in the church universal, or especially in the Anglican tradition.
     
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  15. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    But God is in the midst of us, not hovering somewhere above the alter reredos, in front of the priest and as far from the people as he can get. Matt.18:20. :laugh: The focus is on the eucharist, in the midst of those gathered.
    .
     
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  16. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    I have sat in the choir and faced one another in an Anglican Church since I was seven years old, and I'm too old now to be taught to suck eggs. It was the Roman Catholic Church that introduced east facing, ad-orientum. Before that there were no church buildings to speak of and the communion was an agape meal shared by all with Christ in the midst of them. Ad-orientum was an early innovation when things started to get religious and priests dressed up as Roman magistrates. (And still do).

    You don't seem to know as much about Anglican church history as you think though. Early on in traditional Anglicanism shortly after the Reformation, the communion was celebrated with a knave altar with the priest at the north end of the altar facing south, in the body of the Church.

    The Book of Common Prayer says:

    THE ORDER OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
    OR
    HOLY COMMUNION

    The Table, at the Communion-time having a fair white linen cloth upon it, shall stand in the body of the Church, or in the Chancel, where Morning and Evening Prayer are appointed to be said. And the Priest standing at the north side of the Table shall say the Lord's Prayer, with the Collect following, the people kneeling.

    When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered the Bread and Wine, that he may with the more readiness and decency break the bread before the people, and take the Cup into his hands, he shall say the Prayer of Consecration, as followeth.
    .
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2020
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  17. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    Versus Populum celebration is rare in the Continuing Anglican churches. Where it occurs, it is usually because the chapel is a rental that is set up in that manner. In my jurisdiction, I can only think of one priest who is regularly celebrating in that manner.

    There are a handful of UECNA clergy who are known to celebrate from the North End.

    On the international scene, it is somewhat more common. Almost all of our Spanish speaking affiliates celebrate facing the people and many of the Africans.

    This particular picture is from a gathering in the Holy Land. Most of the whites in this picture are members of an Old Catholic group in Eastern Europe and Russian Lutherans (which I mentioned in the Lutheran Apostolic Succession thread) that we have inter-communion with.
    [​IMG]
     
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  18. Tiffy

    Tiffy Well-Known Member

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    What is that with the bread and wine. Salad? And someone has left a pot plant growing on some beans ready for planting out, right in front of the altar.
     
  19. Shane R

    Shane R Well-Known Member

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    Who knows? The chapel was attached to a convent and was on loan for the service.
     
  20. Botolph

    Botolph Well-Known Member

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    In fairness, I believe it would be wrong to refer to ad populum (the westward position) as heterodox. There is reasonable support for it in the practices of the primitive church, and the East regards it as quite normative, even though they may well have a Iconostasis in between.

    As for the matter of people facing one another, this was also a ancient practice, and for three years I worshiped in a chapel which was blessed with collegiate seating, sort of like having the Quire without the Nave. There are plenty of examples of this form of seating in the medieval church. In reality the best of the East seems to be reasonably in different to seating, and often only provide it for the elderly and the infirm.

    I think that the best of the Westward Position speaks of the community of the faithful and God in our midst the immanent one.
    I think that the best of the Eastward Position speaks of us all doing the same thing where we focus on God the transcendent one.

    What I do have a problem with is the derision of the Eastward Position in the contemporary church on the grounds that they are doing something new, which clearly they are not.
     
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