Q. What is the Paschal candle, and what do the letters “P” and “X” on it stand for?
A. The English word “Paschal” ultimately comes from the Aramaic word for “Passover” (Aramaic is the language Jesus spoke, related to Hebrew). It means “having to do with Easter,” because of the close association between the Jewish Passover and the passion and death of Jesus Christ: “Christ, our Paschal Lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Paschal candle is a symbol of Jesus Christ, who is “the light of the world” (John 8:12). It’s made of pure beeswax, symbolizing His sinlessness. The wick signifies His humanity; the flame, His divinity. At the Easter Vigil, a new fire is kindled to light the candle, symbolizing our new life in Christ. The candle is blessed and inscribed with the cross, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet (“Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” one of the biblical names of Christ, Revelation 1:8; 22:13), and the current year. Five grains of incense are then inserted into the candle in the form of a cross. These recall the aromatic spices with which His body was prepared for the tomb, and the five wounds of His hands, feet, and side. What looks like “X” and “P” are actually the Greek letters Chi and Rho, respectively. Chi (the equivalent of our letter combination “CH”) and Rho (the equivalent of our letter “R”) are the first two letters in the Greek word Christos, “Christ.”The Chi Rho, as it’s called, is thus yet another a symbol of Jesus Christ. In addition to depictions of the two Greek letters side by side, they may be combined artistically in various ways: sometimes with the center of the Chi intersecting the leg of the Rho; sometimes with the Rho forming one of the four arms of the Chi.