AT OLD SAINT JOE'S: "We'll Leave a Light on for Ya!"

Remember all those commercials a few years back for Motel 6 when Tom Burdette claimed, "We'll leave a light on for ya?" Well here at Old Saint Joe's, we're doing the same! Back in October we refurbished our Holy Family grotto area in church. An earlier blog reported that we moved an all-season image of Mary and Joseph to our south exterior entrance to the church. As I have posted here before, people seem to notice the statuary in that new setting much more than they ever noticed in the northwest corner of our church; yet, one never knows what to expect from the students who approach the south lawn imagery! {I'm smiling right now!}

Meanwhile, inside the church, the newly refurbished Marian Chapel has also seen an increase in attention as the liturgical seasons have progressed since November, 2008. The current chapel scenery offers seasonal images of Mary, the Mother of God. In November we added a votive tree which allows devotees an opportunity to light a candle for various intentions, albeit 4.5 hours at a time (given the burning life of the votive candles). Given the number of candles lit, the chapel has proven to be relatively successful.

However, since Ash Wednesday, the chapel has proven to be visited consistently -- perhaps constantly -- given the addition of 8 day votive/vigil candles and a new seasonal image of Our Lady of Sorrows. As we reported in the Sunday bulletin, the image -- a reproduction of Father Stephen McNichol, SJ's "Our Lady of Sorrows" -- is beautiful, indeed. An unexpected number of candles have been lit, replaced and re-lit since Ash Wednesday.

When rationalizing the chapel's new look -- and opportunities -- to the Parish Council, I suggested that especially on a college campus, where all sorts of prayerful intentions dwell, we should allow our students as well as our year-rounders an opportunity to light a candle to couple their prayerful intentions. Given this opportunity was not provided in the college church since its earlier renovation in 1969, I did not know if this custom would automatically 'take off.' To me, that was no problem: if no candles were lit, we could possibly assume that all was well, there were few needs among our college community -- at least few needs that accompanied the lighting of a candle. However, if candles were lit, perhaps we could see in a very real way, that there are needs and prayers out there. Perhaps further, we could try our best to imagine what was in the minds and hearts of our worshippers, and just perhaps we could be vigilant with them in their prayerfulness.

That having been said, the candles continue to pierce the darkness as we have seen a major tracking of votive/vigils being lit and re-lit over the past few weeks of Lent. In fact, I often visit the chapel on my way to Lauds at 7:30 AM. I can see by the depth of the melted wax that some of the candles have been lit in the middle of the night: the beauty of open doors, open hearts!

On Friday, two SNC students seemed to connect the dots! Friday saw the mass exodus on our campus as our students bolted the DePere campus for Spring Break. While it seems as though time has certainly flown since we started up again in late January, it is good timing for the break. Perhaps it's the "Father" in me that worries about our students pulling an 'all-nighter' on the roads in pursuit of warmer climates in Texas, Alabama and Florida. Yet on Friday, several students asked if I'd be willing to say a prayer for them for safe travels. In fact, two of them asked if I'd be willing to light a candle for them "in Mary's room" for safe travels from and to Saint Norbert. It was my privilege to do so!

Doing a Google search on candle lighting in the Catholic Tradition, I found a few entries of significance for you to consider.

"In the lighting of candles we remember and truly live the words of Our Lord: "I am the Light of the World." In the lighting of candles we not only pray, but our prayers become smaller symbols of the One Light of Christ. In burning candles, our prayers rise up to Heaven day and night; prayers for the saint's intercession are also common because of their friendship with God in Heaven. Saints are powerful intercessors. The lighting of candles has been observed since the time of the early martyrs ("

And an entry with a little more detail:

"The Sight of burning votive candles is common in most Catholic churches. The candles are usually placed before statues of saints, before Mary or at shrines. But how did this tradition get its start? According to A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, by Ann Ball (Our Sunday Visitor Books), the practice of lighting candles in order to obtain some favor probably has its origins in the custom of burning lights at the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs. The lights burned as a sign of solidarity with Christians still on earth. Because the lights continually burned as a silent vigil, they became known as vigil lights. Vigil Lights (from the Latin vigilia, which means "waiting" or "watching") are traditionally accompanied by prayers of attention or waiting.

Another common type of candle offering is the votive light. Such an offering is indicative of seeking some favor from the Lord or the saint before which the votive is placed. Lighting a candle is a way of extending one's prayer and showing solidarity with the person on whose behalf the prayer is offered (Our Sunday Visitor)."

There's even more interesting accounts should you have the time and energy to do your own search!

As we find in the Sunday assembly, we find in the Marian Chapel at Old Saint Joe's: we're not entirely aware of what brings our worshippers to our churches. They have much to offer; yet they have much to gain as well. The images of Mary in our chapel will change along with the liturgical seasons -- perhaps the prayers will change as time goes on as well. Yet, the need for prayer will remain constant.

These candles, brightening the darkness, is an illuminated reminder that, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"


Maria said...


When I think of my tenure on Parish Council and the things I'm most proud of helping to accomplish....the Marian Chapel transformation is at the top of my list!

It is a beautiful space (it just SHINES!) that beckons one to come come and sit for awhile.

Enjoy your spring break! I've perfected the lemon drop martinis---Joey can't match these babies even if he tried!


Anonymous said...

Love the additions to the Marian Chapel. It provides a bit of quiet, prayerful escape.


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