A votive candle is a small candle - either white or ivory (perhaps a bit yellowish) - that is generally used as a symbol of prayer and/or devotion. They are about 2 inches tall and 1.5 inches in diameter. Church votive candle holders are often stands. In other words, a church votive candle holder would actually be tiered rows (kind of like a rack) where multiple candles can be placed. For this reason, many churches purchase votive candles in bulk. These holders are often found in sanctuaries or side altars. Church votive candle holders can also be individual and in many colors for various celebrations. When the light of the candle shines through these, the church becomes awash with a colored glow.
Candles represent many things. The light is demonstrative of the Lord as our one true light. It can also symbolize the triumph of good (light) over evil (dark). As a votive or other candle is lit, smoke and heat rises up to God with our prayers. Indeed, it is this element of sending up prayers that probably resonates with most Catholics who see or use votive candles because many people associate them with intentional prayers. In other words, they are lit for someone or something. Catholics may light a votive for a person who is ill or as a sign of gratitude for someone special. This is a way to show one’s solidarity with the person for whom the candle is being lit. They can be lit to memorialize a loved one who has passed away. A candle may be burn for things/efforts as well. For example, church communities will sometimes light votives as a way to ask for more vocations to the religious life. Or others may ask for peace or justice.
Votive candles can burn for varying amounts of times depending on the candle; some burn for 5 or 6 hours, while others can burn for 15. Keeping individual candles lit for extended periods of time demonstrates that the prayer is prolonged, even after the person offering the prayer leaves the church. The church votive candle holders that display them as a rack/group also sends the powerful message that our intentions as a community are offered to God together. There is a collectiveness there that can be really powerful. Indeed, it may be that a person may visit a church hours after other candles have been lit - but as they pray for their separate intention, that person is also praying over the earlier prayers that still burn with the candles.
Votive candles can also be used at home for religious and prayer purposes. They can accompany daily blessings at meals or burn while one reads the bible or simply reflects on faith. Enjoy the light of the Lord at both church and home with simple votive candles.