The Paschal Candle is the foremost liturgical appointment of Eastertide, burning in the center of the church for the Forty Days of Easter, symbolizing, of course, the Risen Christ.
At the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter, the candle was marked (note the Alpha and Omega and the year of our Lord inscribed on the candle) and adorned (note the five red grains of incense representing the five glorious wounds on the resurrected body of Jesus). The candle was then lit from the flames of the resurrection fire, and carried in procession into the dark tomb of the church with the Deacon chanting: The Light of Christ. It represented the pillar of fire and cloud of smoke which led the Israelites in the first Passover.
The congregation with individual candles now lit from the Paschal candle responds: Thanks be to God. The candle is now as well the symbol of the new Passover, Christ our Passover, who has passed from death to life in the resurrection. The candle then is blessed by the celebrant with incense and the Cantor praises God in the ancient Exsultet: HOLY FATHER, ACCEPT … THE OFFERING OF THIS CANDLE IN YOUR HONOR. MAY IT SHINE CONTINUALLY TO DRIVE AWAY ALL DARKNESS. MAY CHRIST THE MORNING STAR WHO KNOWS NO SETTING FIND IT EVER BURNING… (Book of Common Prayer, p. 287). These moments in the liturgy are among the most beautiful and powerful of all the church’s acts of worship.
Beyond its central use during Easter, the Paschal candle is also lit at all baptisms, expressing the truth the St. Paul enunciates in Romans 6 that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Also, finally it is lit at funerals, standing next to the casket, again symbolizing the Risen Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life and who promised to come to us and take us to himself and to his Father’s house of many mansions (John 14).