It is precisely the »Eternal Light « which makes houses of God so homely, its calm, mild glow inspires one to devotion. In Catholic and also a number of Evangelical churches, the »Eternal Light« has its place by the altar, is kept in the »Holiest of Holies«, the tabernacle, and is not to go out. That is the reason for its name.
After the service on Maundy Thursday evening, all decorations are removed from the churches. The tabernacle is emptied and the »Eternal Light« goes out until it takes its place in the Eucharist again after the celebration on Easter Night. In this way, the »Eternal Lamp« glorifies the presence of the Son of God and thus bears the name »lamp of God«.
When we place grave lights on the cemetery on All Saints and All Souls, we are guided by the same wish: the light is to express the hope of the proximity and warmth of God to those whom we have buried and serves as a symbol of eternity for those who have remained behind. In this way, the small grave lights, protected in glass lanterns, not only defy the wind, the cold and darkness, but also forgetting.
Jesus Christ is the light which shines in the dark and illuminates man (cf. John 1,9). »God from God – light from light« we pray in the Creed. To symbolise Him, we use candles, altar candles, baptism candles, Easter candles and also the »Eternal Light«.
Christians have always done this. In the 4th century, Epiphanius saw a permanent light in a Christian house. He was amazed about this and learnt that this was a church and that the light was burning in God’s honour. He found the story so unusual that he decided to record it in writing.
However, it was not the Christians who invented this custom. Romans and Greeks used light to honour their deities. And things are precisely the same with the seven-armed candelabra of the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem: it should never be put out; even when it is being cleaned and the lights are being replaced, at least one of the flames should always be alight. The reasoning is that God began the creation of the world with the sentence »Let there be light«, and therefore light has always been closely connected with Him in man’s memory.
The vessels for the light were made of especially precious material, and pure vegetable oil was used for burning. This centuries-old tradition still continues now. A variety of eternal lamps, stands and holders of high-quality materials, most of them artistically valuable, are found in churches. In a glass or a bowl, mainly ruby-red or transparent, the oil or a sanctuary oil light burns.