Tapers, Early Use of
Tapers, Early Use of
It became customary at an early period to burn tapers in churches on various occasions. This was done during the reading of the gospel, and is partly excused by Jeromte. He says to Vigilantius, "We do not light candles in open day, therefore you slander us without reason." He confesses, however, that some untaught laymen and simple religious women, "of whom we may certainly say that they have a zeal of God without knowledge," do such a thing in honor of martyrs; but he asks, What is the harm? And then he refers to a custom prevalent in the East: "In all churches of the East they light tapers, without any respect to the relics of martyrs, when the gospel is to be read, even when the sun shines brightly; which is done, not for the sake of giving light, but as an expression of joy. Hence the virgins in the Gospel had their lamps lighted; and the apostles were warned to let their loins be girded about, and their lights burning.' Hence it is said, of John also, 'He was a burning and a shining light.' Also under the figure of a material light is represented that light of which we read in the Psalter, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." But the superstition spread, and during the ceremony of baptism tapers were placed in the hands of the baptized, if adults; if they were infants, in the hands of the sponsors. These tapers were said to be emblematical of the illuminating power of the sacrament. Also at the eucharist we find the same custom. Tapers were also used at marriages; and in funeral processions carried before and behind the coffin. — Farrar, Eccles. Dict. s.v.
The altar tapers were used in those candlesticks which are placed on or about the altar; ordinarily those which were lighted during the office of the Christian sacrifice. Custom in the West expects that at least two be lighted, even at low celebrations; at high celebrations, in the Latin Church, as also in some English churches, six tapers are ordinarily lighted. They symbolize (1) the fact that our Savior, "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God," is the true Light of the world. They are also (2) symbols of joy and gladness on the part of the faithful that Christ is born into the world (a) naturally, (b) sacramentally, i.e. in the eucharistic mystery. A seventh taper is added if the bishop of the diocese celebrates a solemn pontifical mass; even twelve or twenty-one are sometimes used.