By Parnell McCarter


Candlelight vigils are becoming increasingly common in America, even as witnessed in the aftermath of the recent Virginia Tech shootings.  So we should ask if these candlelight vigils are a good and Biblically acceptable thing?


We need first to recognize that a vigil is a form of religious exercise or devotion.  The American Heritage Dictionary provides this etymology for ‘vigil’:  Middle English vigile, a devotional watching, from Old French, from Latin vigilia, wakefulness, watch, from vigil, awake; see weg- in Indo-European roots.”   And the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006 provides these relevant definitions:


a devotional watching, or keeping awake, during the customary hours of sleep.



Sometimes, vigils. a nocturnal devotional exercise or service, esp. on the eve before a church festival.



the eve, or day and night, before a church festival, esp. an eve that is a fast.


As a devotional exercise, such a vigil must be scrutinized by the Regulative Principle of Worship taught in scripture.  So is a candlelight vigil explicitly or implicitly commanded as a devotional exercise in scripture?   Simply stated, there is no such command.  Hence, a candlelight vigil is without Biblical warrant.


As we might expect, the early Christian church seems to have avoided things like candlelight vigils, but over time the Romish Church has embraced them.  For some historical information, consider this from

http://www.angelfire.com/realm2/amethystbt/candlebasicinformation.html :
“Early Christianity shunned the use of lights, because of the popularity of honoring the divine with light was viewed as pagan. Indeed, the Greek funeral custom was to accompany the dead with torchlight or candlelight so that the soul of the dying could not be seized by demons. Many church leaders in the first three centuries of Christianity spoke openly about the disdain they had for candles and lights. At this time Rome also had a competing salvation religion that centered on the Egyptian goddess, Isis.  The followers of Isis kept her temple lamps lit at all hours, both day and night, to symbolize constant hope. Despite the fact that Christ called himself the "Light of the World," the early Christians resisted adopting anything obliquely seen as pagan into their religion. At the turn of the third century, Tertullian is credited with saying "on days of rejoicing, we do not.encroach upon the daylight with lamps." However, those who converted still celebrated with lights. They simply adapted their pagan ways and lit the darkness in celebration of the new religion. When the frustrated church leaders met at the Spanish council, the Synod of Elvira in 305, Lactanius, scoffed, "They kindle lights," he said of the pagans, "as though to one who is in darkness. Can he be thought sane who offers the light of lamps and candles to the Author and Giver of all light?"
The early Christian leaders were upset about the multitude of candles being used, and condemned it as an abuse of superstition to burn them during the daytime in cemeteries. Evidently, the new Christians were lighting candles in memory of their dead loved ones. The people loved candle lighting so much they did not want to give it up. They continued to do what was labeled as a "folk custom" by church leaders - lighting candles for the dead at funerals and, of course, in the catacombs of Rome. Vigilantius made it a reproach against the orthodox to light candles while the sun was still shining. Finally, due to the efforts of Saint Jerome and Constantine (who reportedly changed day into night with "pillars of wax"), cooler heads prevailed towards the end of the third century, and candle lighting became an
Integral part of the church. Although Saint Jerome thought it wrong for the pagans to light candles for their gods, he saw nothing wrong with people using candles to celebrate joy. As long as believers were lighting their candles for the presence of God, everlasting life and hope, Saint Jerome was supportive, and finally candles and lights became part of the early Roman church. In fact, the church became quite stringent about candle usage by the time of the fourth century, putting forth guidelines on candles and their functions for the various services provided by the church. New symbolism of candles and
flames emerged to coincide with the church beliefs. Primarily the focus was on beeswax symbolizing the virgin mother, the wick symbolizing the soul of Jesus Christ, and the flame representing the Divinity which absorbs and dominates both. By the twelfth century candles had become the norm in churches, rather than oil lamps. The word ceremony comes from the Latin word cermonius, meaning "the person who carries a wax candle at public rituals". Pope Gelasius in the fifth century established a feast day called Candlemas, during which all of the church's candles were blessed, though the blessing of the candles did not come into common use until the eleventh century. In Dorsetshire England, the custom of giving the poorer tradesmen a large candle at Candlemas continued up until this century.”
Accordingly, we should not be surprised to read of candlelight vigils such as the one reported at http://www.ocala.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070408/NEWS/204080359/1004 :
“VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI baptized eight people during a candlelit Easter Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica early today, opening the most important event of the Christian Church calendar.  
Benedict started the Mass by blessing a large white candle and carrying it down the main aisle of the darkened basilica. Slowly, the twinkle of candlelight lit up the basilica as the faithful shared the lone flame...”
The increasing prevalence of candlelight vigils in America is but another sign of Rome-ward drift.