Friday, March 8, 2013

Mark's thoughts: Processional Torches in the Divine Service

The use of lights has a long and ancient history for God’s people.  God had commanded that a lamp be present in the tabernacle (Exodus 27:20; Leviticus 24:2).  In the time before electricity, lamps served the practical role of providing illumination for worshipers.  For example, we read in Acts 20:7-8, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.”

Light is a powerful symbol in the Scriptures.  God is described as the One who lights the lamp and dispels darkness (Psalm 18:28).  Psalm 119:105 applies this role to God’s Word when it says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  And Jesus applied this image to Himself when He said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

In Roman imperial society, officials were accorded the honor of being accompanied by torches.  By the fourth century, the Church began to use lights in a symbolic fashion in order to accompany the reading of God’s Word.  This practice drew upon the biblical background as well as the cultural associations.  The use of lights taught that in the reading of Scripture, Jesus the light of the world was present in the midst of His people, dispelling the darkness of sin.  Lights were used in processions where the Scriptures were carried in order to accord honor to Christ who is present in His Word.

In many congregations the processional torches are placed on each side of the lectern from which God’s Word is read.  On feast days they are used to accompany the Gospel processional.

The processional torches are part of the ceremony of the liturgy.  This includes things such as the movements by the pastor, the way the communion ware is handled, the vestments, paraments, candles, etc.  The ceremony of the liturgy is intended to adorn the Means of Grace and emphasize their importance.  It communicates the truth of God’s Word to us in a variety of ways and embraces our bodily, physical existence in this time and place. 

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