The Lamps of the Blessed Sacrament
by Msgr. L.G. DeSegur
Light has always occupied a promi-nent place in the worship of God. The reason of this fact is a very deep one; but as we do not wish to enter fully into the subject here, it is sufficient to say that light is the most perfect of created substances, that it is the symbol of truth which enlightens the intelligence and that our Lord Jesus Christ declared with His own Divine lips that He was “the true Light,” and the “Light of the world.”
For these reasons and many others, light has always been among Christians an integral part of their outward worship and particularly of all that relates to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. From the time of the Apostles, when the early Christians were forced to take refuge in the Catacombs and other secret asylums to hide their sacred gatherings from all eyes, lights were never omitted; and from that distant time the Church has always shown a special regard for the custom of burning candles during the celebration of the Mass and the divine offices and also in the veneration which is paid to holy images and the relics of the martyrs.
In the Catacombs of Rome there have been found, among others, magnificent lamps in gold, silver and brass in the form of wreaths of flowers, in each of which were burned, before the bodies of the martyrs, a certain number of wicks, replenished day and night by the devotion of the faithful. These luminous crowns were suspended from the vaults of the chapels of the Catacombs and honored by their brilliancy the sacred relics of those pontiffs, virgins and martyrs who remained faithful unto death to Jesus the Light of the World.
When, after centuries of persecution, the Church could openly display the pomp and grandeur of their ritual, light once more formed an important part of the religious ceremonial. Popes, Christians and numbers of the faithful, following their example, brilliantly illuminated the new churches with costly lamps, accompanied with endowments for supplying them perpetually with pure oil and light. So it is that, centuries after, we may still see a hundred and forty lamps surrounding, as with a brilliant aureole, the venerable tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, in the basilica of Saint Peter at Rome. Forty lamps, always lighted, burn before the relics of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr; and indeed relics are never exposed at Rome for the veneration of the faithful without being honored by lights.
If this is the case with the relics of the saints, we may easily conceive the solicitude with which the Church has always watched to supply at least one burning lamp before the Sacred Body of Our Lord, truly present in the Holy Eucharist; here, again, Rome roves herself the mistress of Catholic devotion, and nothing can be more striking than the effect of the seven lamps which burn in the great churches of Rome before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament.
It is indeed to be desired that everywhere, in the smallest chapel where the Adorable Body of Jesus Christ reposes, the priest and the faithful should have the means constantly to supply a lamp as a mark of their Faith in the Mystery of mysteries. Coldness of heart, religious indifference, and want of a lively faith must prevent any manifestation as rich and as costly as in the Holy City, but it is at least necessary that one lamp should burn night and day before the Blessed Sacrament, and thus recall to those who enter the Church the Sacred Presence of Our Lord, and bear witness to the faith and devotion of His children.
The Sovereign Pontiff Blessed Pius IX, animated by a deep and tender devotion to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, attached a particular importance to keeping lamps always lighted before the tabernacles. He even enriched with an indulgence of seven years every act of piety, whatever it might be, by which the faithful should cooperate in this good work. Thus the poor woman, the poor workman who can do no more, may gain the precious grace of indulgences by giving in honor to the most Holy Sacrament. May the faith and zeal of all be reanimated, and may the Blessed Sacrament of the love of God upon earth be everywhere praised, honored and glorified!