The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which governs the celebration of the holy Mass, speaks of “special marks of honor” that are given to the proclamation of the Gospel in order to set it apart from the other readings (60). During the procession with the Book of the Gospels, incense and lit candles may be used as some of these special marks of honor (cf. 133).
Those carrying the thurible (the censor) and the candles, as well as everyone present at the Mass, “turn towards the ambo as a sign of special reverence to the Gospel of Christ” (113). Although the General Instruction of the Roman Missal curiously does not specify where the servers with the candles stand once the Gospel procession reaches the ambo. The Ceremonial of Bishops, however, says that the deacon “carries the [Book of the Gospels] with solemnity to the ambo, preceded by the censer bearer and the acolytes with candles” (140). Hence, it is customary for the servers with the candles to stand on either side of the ambo, facing the ambo.
While candles may be used during the proclamation of the Gospel, there is no direction in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for candles to be used during the homily. After the Gospel is proclaimed, both the incense and the candles are returned to the credence table, to the sacristy, or to some other appropriate place until they are needed again. It is unforeseen in liturgical books that servers hold candles while the homily is preached, which means it shouldn’t be done.
While the use of candles during the proclamation of the Gospel fell out of use in many places in recent decades, their use was always specified. Happily, their use is beginning to receive renewed attention as a further means to reverence the Gospel and add a certain dignity to the liturgical celebration.
Father Daren Zehnle is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and St. Peter Parish in Petersburg and is the director for the Office of Divine Worship and the Catechumenate for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.