What Is The Tool Used To Light Candles In Church? And Other Gizmos

When you envisage a church, there are a few stalwart images that come to mind. An altar, stained glass windows, pews, and candles, lots of candles. Just as there is a ritual associated with church services, there are specific processes associated with the selection, use, and care of candles used in religious settings.

The guidance can often be very complex and is often only best understood by clergy members themselves. However, we will endeavor to provide an overview of some of the most common questions about the practicalities of candles within church services.

The lighting of candles has long held special significance for many religions and spiritual practices. But when there are so many flames to light there are some practicalities to consider, fire safety for example, and how to safely light them. In this article, we will explore all things church candle and the various ways to light them.

The tool used to light the many candles associated with a church service is often referred to simply as a candle lighter or sometimes a pew candle lighter. It is a length of metal, often brass which houses a replaceable wax taper that is lit and then moved between each candle in turn.

What are Pew Candlelighters made from?

Pew candle lighters often comprise a length of brass with a curved end holder where a length of wax taper can be placed. The wax taper is normally a stiffened piece of cotton, wood, or other organic material coated in layers of wax to allow a flame to be maintained between lighting each candle.

The candle lighter often has a curved shield around the wax taper to prevent draughts from extinguishing it repeatedly.

Once the wax taper is lit this can be used to move from candle to candle lighting each one in turn. The longer design of pew candle lighters was designed to aid clergy in safely lighting candles, potentially from a distance or where they are encased in a protective casing which would make it impractical to reach the wick inside.

A candle lighter is often combined with an additional attachment to allow candles to be safely distinguished which we will explore further in the article.

What kind of Candles are used in Church?

While alter candles are often traditional pillar candles. Catholic churches often make use of pew torches or pew candlesticks.  They are typically mounted at the end of church pews and are particularly popular during wedding ceremonies or Christmas services.

Pew torches generally comprise a wooden stem mounted at the pew end with a glass or acrylic globe or cylindrical tube to guard the candle flame. Pew candlesticks by comparison are often freestanding with a long brass or wood frame that reaches to the floor independent of the pew itself. A pew candlestick also includes the class or acrylic casing for the lit flame. A casing was essential in days gone by due to the draughty nature of churches meaning a flame could easily be extinguished and require constant re-lighting if not protected. 

The casing also provides a valued safety measure by shielding the flame from flammable materials such as congregants’ hair or clothing. The holder also prevents any rogue wax from dripping on furniture or people.

In terms of the flammable fuel for a pew torch or candlestick, they are often designed to accommodate wax or tube candles, while some favored oil and would have reservoirs and wicks to house the chosen oil fuel substance.

What is a Candle dipper?

A candle dipper is a device designed to aid in the safe and mess-free means of extinguishing a lit candle flame. As we know candles form an important part of many religious services, there can be multiple candles lit of varying sizes.

While we know it is possible to blow out a candle, sometimes there are so many lit this would leave many a religious leader lightheaded. There is also the risk that blowing out a candle will result in wax spatter or even worse a fire risk should the candle topple.

Enter the candle dipper, sometimes referred to as a candle snuffer. This is a metal utensil that comprises a metal wand with a curved end. The length of the utensil can vary to allow you to reach taller or wider candles.

A candle dipper offers a smokeless way to extinguish a candle and leave it ready for re-use. Extinguishing a candle with a candle dipper requires a little bit of technique. The user must use the hooked end to push the lit wick down into the melted wax reservoir around it. Once the flame is out the hook is then pulled upwards again to expose the wick above the surface once more in anticipation of the next use.

To relight the candle it is just a case of melting the wax coat on the wick where upon the candle wick will catch light again.

 What is a Church incense burner called?

The image of a Catholic priest walking down an aisle swinging a smoking ball of incense has been depicted in many movies, written accounts, and tv shows.  The use of incense in church services also has roots in Judaism and Russian orthodox practices amongst others.

The device that the smoke emits from is called a “thurible”, which comes from the medieval Latin, “turibulum”. Effectively it is a metal casing with holes suspended on chains. The metal chamber is referred to as a censer. The lid of the censer is removed and burning charcoals are placed inside. Incense is also placed inside to create a fragrant smoke. The chains allow the censor to be transported safely without burning the person transporting it.

Once the priest has moved through the church it is often deposited on a special holder to allow the fragrant smoke to continue to disperse during the service. There are specific instructions and ritualistic measures associated with the use of a thurible within the Catholic church. There is a special significance attached to those who are permitted to carry the thurible and also intricate guidance on how and how often it should be swung.

How many Candles are used in Catholic Mass

When most people envisage a Catholic mass they often picture a peaceful church with the presence of ceremonial candle flames. However, there is specific spiritual guidance and ritual in relation to how many and what type of candles are permitted within traditional Catholic Mass.

Firstly it has been decreed by the Catholic church elders that candles should comprise of beeswax to be included in religious ceremonies. “The pure wax extracted by bees from flowers symbolizes the pure flesh of Christ received from His Virgin Mother, the wick signifies the soul of Christ, and the flame represents His divinity” is how the Catholic Encyclopaedia explains the significance. While many candles have a wick and flame, it is considered that only beeswax can denote the purity of Christ.

The number of candles required differs depending on the specific nature of the Mass and who is conducting it, i.e priest, bishop, or higher. Specific guidance can be sought online however as general guidance there must always be a minimum of two alter candles lit. However, this can increase to as many as seven dependent on the situation.

What is used to light the Menorah?

The Jewish celebration of Hanukkah is known as “The Festival of Light” therefore it is only fitting that candles are an important part of this. During the festival, Jewish families observe the ritualistic lighting of the menorah (Hanukkiyah in Hebrew). The menorah is one of the most widely recognizable symbols of Judaism.

A menorah is a candle holder of a specific design with nine branches that holds eight candles or oil lamps and a “candle helper”. Each night a candle is lit working from left to right using the candle helper. It is traditional that the candle helper should comprise the purest olive oil available.

Olive oil has long been considered sacred. The olive branch was often a symbol of abundance, glory, and peace. Over the years, the olive has also been used to symbolize wisdom, fertility, power, and purity.


The use and lighting of candles is an important aspect of many religions, in particular Christianity and Judaism. There are important rituals and behaviors associated not only with the lighting of ceremonial candles but in regard to their composition and how many can be utilized.

The common use of candles has given rise to secondary customs around specific means of lighting, extinguishing, and displaying candles as part of religious ceremony