Priests seek to show God’s beauty through paschal candle artistry

Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, Ind., puts the final touches on an Easter candle that he decorated. (CNS/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, Ind., puts the final touches on an Easter candle that he decorated. (CNS/Sean Gallagher, The Criterion)

By Sean Gallagher
Catholic News Service

GREENFIELD, Ind. (CNS) — As Easter season ends, one reminder of it that will remain in churches throughout the rest of the liturgical year is the Easter candle, also known as the paschal candle.

Throughout the liturgical year, Easter candles are used at baptisms and at funerals.

They are a special symbol of Christ in the liturgical worship of the church, serving as a dramatic reminder of the risen Jesus bringing light into a dark and fallen world.

Priests, too, are signs of Jesus, being sacramentally conformed to the image of Christ in their ordination, and showing him forth to the church and the world through their life and ministry.

Two priests of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis have brought these symbols together to increase the beauty, goodness and truth of God in the world through their artistic talents.

Father Aaron Jenkins and Father Jerry Byrd make a labor of love out of adding beauty to the paschal candles for the parishes that they lead.

There are various ways to decorate a paschal candle, which ordinarily is the largest candle in a church, standing several feet tall. They can be painted with acrylic paints or melted crayons or have colored wax added to them.

“Doing candles and things like that allows me to give that part of myself to a parish,” said Father Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield. “It continues to be more and more relational.”

His love of art does not just connect him to the parish community, but to others whom he has helped to draw out their own artistic talents.

Father Jenkins helped Father Byrd learn new artistic skills when both were in priestly formation at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

Father Byrd recently decorated three paschal candles for the three faith communities he leads: St. Mary Parish in North Vernon, and St. Ann and St. Joseph parishes in Jennings County.

Like Father Jenkins, he sees his work in art as a “generativity to be shared.”

“It’s a creative outlet for me to put what is in my mind and my heart to use in something that’s for all the people,” Father Byrd told The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper. “It’s not just for me to hide away in a closet.

“When I create a piece of liturgical or sacred art or compose a piece of music, I do it because it’s one of the ways that I can glorify God. And it’s another way that people can relate to me.”

Both priests also design and sew many of the vestments they use in liturgical celebrations. As with the decoration of paschal candles, Father Jenkins taught Father Byrd the sewing skill.

Both have made vestments for other priests in and beyond the archdiocese.

“We’re drawn out of ourselves and put in the presence of God. The vestments are a reminder of that. It’s a sacred object, something set apart,” Father Byrd explained.

Father Jenkins appreciates the simple beauty in the fact that he himself makes many of the vestments he uses.

“In some ways, I feel a little better wearing (my) vestments, because I know that I made them,” he said. “And they didn’t cost nearly as much as if I would have spent money someplace else. There’s a strange simplicity but also respect for the beauty and honor that is due to Christ at the Mass in that aspect.”

The basic design of the vestments that Father Byrd and Father Jenkins make dates to the Middle Ages.

“We have 2,000 years to pull from,” Father Jenkins said. “We don’t just pull from one little area or one little decade of time. It’s all of it.”

In addition to creating beautiful things for liturgical worship, Father Jenkins’ work in art has given him a helpful perspective in ministering to people.

“That creative spark inside of me from creating art has definitely helped me be more creative in working through problems in a parish and helping people work through problems in their lives,” he told The Criterion.

Art also is humbling for Father Jenkins. He recognizes that the beautiful things he creates come from materials that he did not make, helping get a better grasp on ministry.

“Seeing that on a more spiritual level in the world is that I’m working with folks that I didn’t make,” he said. “They’re working with a world that they didn’t make. We’re just trying to make the best of what we have.”

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Gallagher is a reporter at The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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