Jerome in answer declared that the candles were lighted when the Gospel was read, not indeed to put darkness to flight, but as a sign of joy. L., XXIII, 345.) This remark and the close association of lighted candles with the baptismal ceremony, which took place on Easter Eve and which no doubt occasioned the description of that sacrament as photismos (illumination), shows that the Christian symbolism of blessed candles was already making itself felt at that early date.
This conclusion is further confirmed by the language of the Exultet , still used in our day on Holy Saturday for the blessing of the paschal candle. Jerome himself composed such a praeconium paschale (see Morin in Revue Bénédictine, Jan., 1891), and in this the idea of the supposed virginity of bees is insisted on, and the wax is therefore regarded as typifying in a most appropriate way the flesh of Jesus Christ born of a virgin mother.
We must not forget that most of these adjuncts to worship, like music, lights, perfumes, ablutions, floral decorations, canopies, fans, screens, bells, vestments, etc.
were not identified with any idolatrous cult in particular; they were common to almost all cults.
The word candle ( candela , from candeo , to burn) was introduced into the English language as an ecclesiastical term, probably as early as the eighth century.
It was known in classical times and dennoted any kind of taper in which a wick, not uncommonly made of a strip of papyrus, was encased in wax or animal fat.
As regards material, the candles used for liturgical purposes should be of beeswax.
This is adhered to on account probably of its symbolic reference to the flesh of Christ, as already explained.
The carrying of tapers figures among the marks of respect prescribed to be shown to the highest dignitaries of the Roman Empire in the "Notitia Dignitatum Imperii".
It is highly probable that the candles which were borne from a very early period before the pope or the bishop when he went in procession to the sanctuary, or which attended the transport of the book of the Gospels to the ambo or pulpit from which the deacon read, were nothing more than an adaptation of this secular practice.
The rubrics also prescribe that two acolytes with candles should walk at the head of the procession to the sanctuary, and these two candles are also carried to do honour to the chanting of the Gospel at high Mass, as well as to the singing of the little chapter and the collects at Vespers, etc.