This is a historical day for me, since I am about to enter the dear old Anglican controversy about How Many Candles On The Altar.
Back in the good old days when such things were deemed to matter, dear old C of E was divided between (1) Evangelicals who regarded any candles in the same way as their modern successors view sodomy: as pretty well the ultimate sin. (2) Moderate Men or 'the High Church', for whom it was an article of Faith that Two Candles should stand on every Holy Table. The main evidence for this conviction seems to have been the 1547 Tudor Injunctions, the real point of which seems to have been graciously to allow parishes to retain two candles after the government had looted the rest. (3) Six candles ... beloved by 'Romanisers' ... how one's heart lifted as one entered a strange church if its High Altar were thus adorned ...
Dix p420 exploded these sacristy orthodoxies by listing the generous variety of customs which, in reality, existed in and before the England of 1548 (the year when, by a pedantically precise reading of the 1549 Prayer Book, the ornaments of the churches and their ministers were fixed and frozen in perpetuity).
But just notice Dix's words: "There appear in fact to be instances from medieval England of every number of altar candles from one to twenty, except seventeen and nineteen."
Did you spot that? ONE! How asymmetrical!
In what follows, I am being horrifically anecdotal. But it is up to you to bring me to my senses.
I am suspicious of rubrical sources which give numbers. I suspect them of giving us information about what was done in great churches. I am far less convinced thatat side atars and in chantries, this convention existed.
For some time, I have been noticing, without ever making records, pictures of Low Masses in medieval English manuscripts, in which the altar appear simply to have one candle; at the South ('Epistle') end of the Altar. Another example arrived in my post yesterday: D H Frost's magnificent Sacrament an Alter. An expensive book (£80/$109) but vital reading for anybody interested in Recusancy, the 'Marian Reaction', Tudor History, the Cornish Language, Bonner ...
On the front cover is an illustration 'from a Book of Hours, Sarum Use, c1440-c.1450' (BL, Harley 2915, folio 84).The priest is elevating the Host; there appears to be one candle on the Altar; the Clerk, whose left hand lifts the foot of the chasuble, with his right hand holds aloft two candles.
Perhaps the "one candle" is actually a reference to the "Sanctus candle" which was wont (and this obsolete custom is still mentioned in the rubrics of Missale Romanum) to be lit from Sanctus till Communion. Perhaps in some images showing the mideaevel Mass the other two altar candles are simply out of picture.
I know that 16 candles make a lovely light, but what's wrong with 17 candles? 17 is my favorite prime number after 23. (Since we were discussing maths yesterday.)
The Sanctus candle was a feature of the Dominican rite which I attended daily in term time between 1957 and 1961. At Low Mass it was a single candle, as far as I remember on the Epistle side; at High Mass two standard candles were lit, one each side of the sanctuary (very Percy Dearmer).
The most relevant rubrics which held in mediaeval times was surely the resources of the priest and parish with candles and colours of vestments dependent on that. A book on the Use of York, itself a Use of a Use, or maybe Rite of Sarum I read, said as much for the poorer parishes in relation to liturgical colours for vestments.
I saw in a Waterford Museum the fine set of Flemish woven cloth of gold vestments (now kept in near darkness) last used when Gen. Ireton attacked Waterford, which were carefully hidden in the cathedral before the city fell after a year's siege in August 1650. When discovered in the late 18th century during works leading to the raising of a new Church of Ireland (Anglican) cathedral the Anglican bishop very nobly gave them to his Catholic counterpart. It also has the vestments of Fr Geoffrey Keating, old English Gaelic post and historian who died some years before. Unlike a priest of Waterford, Fr Keating, operating in circumstances of illegality, had no city fathers as patrons and so his vestment was something much simpler. I reckon his Masses could be a one or two or no candle affair if not at the house of a gentleman or merchant.
As long as there are the same number of candles on either side of the altar, I do not mind how many are there. What I do not like is the French habit in some places of having two usually stubby candles on one side and none on the other together with an off centre Crucifix behind the altar.
Pelerin: the other side is for flowers.
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