The Meaning and Symbolism of Sympathy Candles

Candles have been used in memorials, funerals, and to honor lost loved ones for centuries. The flame of a candle signifies life, while the melting wax represents the passing of time. Sympathy candles carry a deep tradition and meaning for those grieving the loss of someone close.

Why Give Sympathy Candles?

Sympathy candles are a thoughtful and meaningful gift for someone who has recently lost a loved one. Here are some of the key reasons these candles are an appropriate gesture:

  • Light in the darkness – The warm glow of a candle brings light to someone experiencing a dark time of grief and mourning. It reminds them they are not alone.
  • Honoring the deceased – Lighting a candle in honor of someone who passed away is a symbolic way to pay tribute to their life and memory.
  • Showing support – Sending a sympathy candle lets the bereaved know you are thinking of them and share in their grief. It’s a simple but supportive gesture.
  • Remembrance – A candle that can be lit over and over links the past to the present. The person grieving can light the candle in remembrance and reflection.
  • Comfort – The soothing flame of a candle evokes warmth and calm during a difficult time of loss. It can bring solace and comfort to the grieving.
  • Spiritual symbolism – Many faiths use candles in rituals related to death. The candle’s flame can represent the soul living on or finding eternal light.

Appropriate Candle Scents for Grieving

Choosing an appropriate scent for a sympathy candle is an important consideration. You want a fragrance that will be comforting but not overlyintrusive. Here are some of the most commonly used scent options:

  • Lavender – With its fresh, floral aroma, lavender is a calming scent that can aid relaxation during times of grief. It also has cleansing properties.
  • Chamomile – This mild herbal scent promotes feelings of peace and tranquility. It helps ease anxiety that often accompanies mourning.
  • White tea and ginger – This soothing scent blend evokes optimism with its uplifting citrus ginger notes while white tea soothes stress.
  • Clean cotton – The pure, fresh essence of cotton evokes clarity and new beginnings – something the bereaved can look forward to.
  • Vanilla – This warm, nostalgic scent reminds people of home and happier times. Its sweetness brings comfort.
  • Lemon verbena – Citrus scents like lemon verbena are energizing but not overpowering. They encourage focus during grief’s difficult days.
  • Rose – Rose’s floral sweetness reminds us of life’s beauty and the fond memories shared with loved ones.
  • Unscented – An unscented candle avoids unwanted aromas so the grieving can focus on reflection.

The Significance of Candles at Funerals

Candles play an important symbolic role in funeral services across many cultures and faiths. Here is an overview of their significance:

  • Lighting the way – It is a common tradition for pallbearers to carry candles representing the guiding light that leads the deceased to the afterlife.
  • Eternal flame – Candles are often placed beside or near the casket, signifying the light of life that continues on past death.
  • Peace and remembrance – Candles lit beside memorial photo displays remind mourners to fondly remember the deceased with peace in their hearts.
  • Prayer and vigil candles – These candles burned in the church overnight pay respect to the dead. Their flames welcome prayers for the departed soul.
  • Altar candles – Many religious services display candles beside sacred texts and offerings on the altar. They denote honor to God and the cycle of life.
  • Yahrzeit memorial candles – These candles honor the anniversary of a loved one’s death in the Jewish faith. Yahrzeit means “time of year” in Yiddish.
  • Lighting the way home – In many cultures, candles light the path as the deceased is carried out from their funeral ceremony toward their final resting place.

Common Funeral Candle Traditions

There are some commonly seen candle traditions and rituals often incorporated into modern funeral services:

  • Remembrance or unity candles – These candles represent the spirit of the deceased. Loved ones each light a candle from this central candle in a gesture of lighting the way forward.
  • Four candles representing stages of life – This tradition involves four candles lit representing the phases of the deceased’s life, such as childhood, adulthood, parenthood, and old age.
  • Individual remembrance candles – Each funeral guest is given a small votive or tea light candle they can light from a central candle. It allows everyone to participate.
  • Lighting the way candles – Candles may line the path out of the funeral venue or be placed beside the casket as it exits – illuminating the way forward after death.
  • Eternity candles – These extra tall taper candles burn through the entire funeral service, representing eternity and the eternal soul.
  • Baptismal candles – If the deceased was baptized, their original baptismal candle may be displayed and lit at their funeral.
  • Flameless candles – Battery-operated flameless candles are convenient and safe options often used in lieu of traditional wax candles.

Understanding the Significance of the 5 Candles Seen at Funerals

The five candles commonly displayed at Catholic funeral masses hold special significance. Each candle has its own symbolic meaning related to faith:

The Paschal or Easter Candle

  • Represents Christ’s resurrection victory over death
  • Lit first at the Easter Vigil mass and present for all masses thereafter
  • Placed near the casket at funerals to recall Christ’s triumph and eternal life

The Sacramental Candle

  • Denotes the sacred sacraments the deceased participated in, such as baptism, communion and confirmation
  • Usually accompanied by holy water to sprinkle for remembrance and blessing

The Virgin Mary Votive Candle

  • Honor’s Mary’s guidance to reunite the living and dead in God’s kingdom
  • Shows trust in her motherly protection and intercession for the departed soul

The Patron Saint Candle

  • Represents the saint after which the deceased is named seeking their holy intervention
  • For example, Saint Patrick or Saint Rose may have candles lit in their honor

The Rosary Candle

  • Symbolizes prayer and devotion through lighting of the rosary
  • Calls on Christ’s passion and God’s grace to welcome the departed home

These five candles each illuminate an important aspect of Catholic faith and belief in eternal salvation. Their flickering flames and ascending smoke signify prayers lifting the soul to peacefully transition to the afterlife.

The Meaning of the 5 Parts of a Candlelight Prayer Service

Candlelight prayer or memorial services often follow a five part structure, with each component carrying spiritual significance:


  • Opening remarks welcome mourners to collectively remember the departed with gratitude.


  • Candles are lit in honor of the deceased as their life story and memories are shared.


  • Time is given to quietly reflect on the loss while listening to meaningful music or scripture.


  • Participants acknowledge their pain but release the sadness and begin looking ahead.


  • The service ends on themes of love’s eternal nature and the soul living on. There is a renewed sense of hope.

Through this five part candlelight ceremony, collective grief and remembrance transitions into a space of solace, inspiration and renewal. The candle’s flame guides the way.

What is the Significance of the 4 Candles of Grief?

Lighting four candles is a memorial ritual acknowledging the stages of grief experienced after losing a loved one:

1. The Pain Candle

  • Represents grieving’s first stage – the intense anguish of loss.

2. The Anger Candle

  • Symbolizes the frustration, uncertainty and confusion in the second stage.

3. The Sorrow Candle

  • Acknowledges the period of sadness, loneliness and withdrawal.

4. The Peace Candle

  • The final candle lit when reaching the stage of acceptance, healing, and moving forward.

This four candle memorial allows mourners to process difficult emotions together through the grief journey’s phases, culminating in peace.

Understanding the Meaning of the 4 Candles Ceremony

The four candles lit during this memorial ceremony also hold the following significance:

The Grieve Candle

  • Time to express and release pent-up grief.

The Give Thanks Candle

  • Gratitude for the time spent with the deceased.

The Learn Candle

  • Reflect on the lessons and values the lost loved one taught.

The Remember Candle

  • Share joyful memories of the meaningful life they lived.

Lighting these four candles provides mourners an active way to honor the deceased: grieving their loss, giving thanks for the experience of love shared, learning from their model, and committing to remember their enduring legacy.

The Purpose and Meaning of Holy Candles

Holy candles are specifically used for spiritual practice and have sacred significance:

  • Prayer – Candles lit during worship, meditation or prayer rituals welcome in the divine presence.
  • Enlightenment – The candle flame dispels darkness while enhancing focus and introspection.
  • Offering – In many faiths, candles symbolize a sacrificial offering presented with petitions or gratitude.
  • Penance – Prayer candles may represent doing penance for wrongdoing or asking forgiveness.
  • Memorial – Lit candles memorialize those who have passed and request their peaceful transition.
  • Unity – Gathering together in candlelight creates community and joins people in spiritual purpose.
  • Celebration – Candles are prominently featured in ceremonies for rites of passage and holidays.
  • Protection – Some traditions believe lit candles ward off evil, counter darkness and provide safety.

From honoring deities to mourning the dead, candles invoke the sacred across almost all faith traditions even into modern times. Their flames sanctify spaces and rituals.

Also read: Memorial Lanterns

Why It is Good to Pray with a Candle

Praying with a lit candle can enhance this sacred practice and experience for many of the following reasons:

  • Adds a soothing, serene ambiance removed from the ordinary world.
  • Provides a visual focus which helps concentration during prayer.
  • Symbolizes bringing light to any darkness through spiritual communion.
  • Represents keeping vigil and energy focused on prayer’s intention.
  • Fire element purifies, transforms and elevates the space and the self.
  • wax’s melting reminds one of time passing and the prayer’s immediacy.
  • Creates a small personal altar and offering within the prayer space.
  • Allows one to visually offer up prayers and petitions through the flame.
  • Candle’s upward lift resembles desires rising to heaven and the divine.

Lighting a candle when entering into prayer can thus deepen sacred connection, focus, and sincerity through its powerful symbolism.

What is Called the Prophet’s Candle?

In the Catholic and Anglican churches, the Paschal candle used at Eastertide and throughout the year is also known as the Prophet’s Candle. This is because it symbolizes Jesus Christ as the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets’ foretelling.

The candle’s components represent:

  • Wax – Christ’s body and resurrection
  • Wick – His soul and divinity
  • Flame – The Holy Spirit and everlasting light
  • Color – Purity and sacrifice

This symbolism of the Paschal candle reinforces Christ’s identity in scripture as the prophet foretold by Isaiah and others to redeem mankind – the light that defies darkness.

The candle is inscribed with the current year and may also display the symbols alpha and omega to reference Christ as the beginning and end. It reminds us that He is the prophet made flesh who triumphed over the grave.

Which Color Candles Should You Use When Praying?

Different candle colors have their own meanings which can focus intentions in prayer. Here are common colors and what they represent:

  • White – purity, truth, peace, healing
  • Red – love, strength, courage, passion
  • Pink – affection, kindness, romance, femininity
  • Purple – intuition, wisdom, spirituality, imagination
  • Blue – tranquility, understanding, patience, devotion
  • Green – growth, finances, success, abundance
  • Yellow – joy, intellect, creativity, sunny outlook
  • Orange – enthusiasm, attraction, stimulation, confidence
  • Brown – stability, earthiness, heritage, endurance
  • Black – release, dissolving, void, introspection

Select candle colors aligned to your prayer’s purpose. Combine colors for amplified energy. Let the candle color reinforce the intended virtues and qualities sought from prayer.


Sympathy candles have deeply symbolic meanings in times of bereavement and remembrance. The candle’s sculpted wax gives its fleeting flame form – just as our fragile lives give shape to the undying soul. Lighting these candles in honor of life, loss and the great beyond brings solace and spiritual connection.

Their gentle glow dispels darkness and reminds us we are all united under the same human experience. Sympathy candles offer a small measure of light by which to guide mourners through grief’s darkness to renewal beyond. The soft flame kindles community and holds space for peacefully processing life’s hardest losses.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sympathy Candles

Are candles a good sympathy gift?

Yes, candles are an excellent sympathy gift. Their warm glow provides literal and symbolic light in a dark time of grief. Candles represent the light of life continuing and hope remaining. They are a thoughtful gesture.

What candle scent is best for grieving?

Soothing, mild scents work well like lavender, chamomile, clean cotton, lemon verbena, vanilla, white tea and ginger, or rose. Avoid strong scents and instead pick calming fragrances during bereavement.

What is the candle representing passed loved ones?

It symbolizes their soul, spirit, and memory living on. It becomes a focal point to remember their enduring light and impact. The ascending smoke can represent their peaceful transition heavenwards.

Why are candles used at funerals?

Candles at funerals represent light in darkness, prayer, reverence, peace, and the deceased’s soul and faith journey. Candles guide mourners in honoring the dead and processing loss. The flames offer hope of eternal life.

What are the five candles seen at Catholic funerals?

The Paschal, sacramental, Virgin Mary, patron saint, and rosary candles relating the soul’s journey to salvation. They reinforce Catholic beliefs about the afterlife through their symbolism.

What is the meaning of the five-candle prayer service?

The five parts involve gathering, remembering the deceased, quiet reflection, releasing sadness, and renewing one’s spirit. The candlelight guides through this transition from mourning to commemoration.

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