Q: Why are candles lit in front of Mary's statue?
A: First, consider statues; then consider the significance of the candles burning near them. Statues have meaning only as "conductors"; they help in directing our attention to the one signified by the statue. A statue of Mary can be compared to such a "conductor." She leads to what is most important to her, and that is her Son Jesus Christ. All she does is put our petition before the Lord and plead on our behalf.
Mary is a great woman, and of all the entourage of Jesus, the most intimately related to him. At the same time, she is utterly dependent on God. Without this dependence neither her role nor her glory make much sense. The many candles may convey a sometimes ambiguous message. However, they should never be understood as a sign of adoration. They are located at a side altar marking clearly the subordination to the main "attraction," which is Jesus Christ's salvific action symbolized in the tabernacle, the altar and the gospels. Candles are not lit as a sign of adoration only. Although not known in the Jewish liturgy of the Old Testament, candles were used by the Romans and from early Christian times on for evening prayer, in funeral processions, and were burned at the tombs of the dead, especially the martyrs and the relics of the Saints. Hence, in the Christian tradition candles do not have the meaning of adoration.
Popular devotion has often let the candle symbolize one's presence. One usually cannot spend the long hours contemplating the person represented by the statue, so one leaves behind a lit candle to indicate: "If I could, I'd stay and think more about the relationship of Jesus and Mary. So, let the little flame stays in my stead. We might say to the person represented by the statue: "Think of me, though I leave here, and I will think of you."
Have a look at the "The Mary Page" under "FAQ" and "Your Questions" for more observations on this topic, i.e., "Praying to Mary."
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