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The ceremony of lighting the Paschal candle is one of the most solemn moments of the Easter Vigil on the Saturday evening before Easter. On Maundy Thursday of the same week the entire church is darkened when all the candles and lamps are extinguished. Then on Saturday a special sacred fire is lit. This represents the risen Christ whose light dispelled the darkness (death).
The Paschal candle is the first candle to be lit with this sacred flame; it represents light of Christ which has come into the world. As the Paschal candle is lit the deacon chants the Exultet. Even a partial translation conveys the emotions of joy and exultation.
Sing, choirs of heaven! Let saints and angels sing! Around God's throne exult in harmony! Now Jesus Christ is risen from the grave! Salute your King in glorious symphony!
Sing, choirs of earth! Behold, your light has come! The glory of the Lord shines radiantly! Lift up your hearts, for Christ has conquered death! The night is past; the day of life is here!
Sing, Church of God! Exult with joy outpoured! The gospel trumpets tell of victory won! Your Savior lives: he's with you evermore! Let all God's people shout the long Amen!
This candle is traditionally the first to be lit and the one from which all other lights are taken. In most cases today the candle will display the Greek letters alpha and omega (the beginning and the end), together with the year indicated at the base. Five grains of incense in red are embedded in it to represent the wounds of Christ (each hand, each foot and forehead.)
It is also used at baptisms to light the candles that represent the light of Christ. For that reason, after the Easter season, it is frequently found near the baptismal font. In the medieval church they often reached a stupdendous size. The paschal candle of Salisbury Cathedral was said to be 36 feet tall.