Usually the lighting of the candles in the Sanctuary is a joyful thing, as the ancient hymn of light, "Phos Hilaron," [Hilarious Light!] sings; or as the lighting of the two candles for the beginning of the Eucharist today indicate.
However, the Feast of the Ascension (in 2007 on Thursday 17th May) is a Day when the extinguishing of the Candle, which has burned since Easter Morning, is also ceremonially done with exceeding great joy in the Eucharist after the Epistle (Acts 1). Why? In order to demonstrate that on the fortieth day since his Resurrection, the Lord Jesus having taught, made promises to, and blessed his disciples is now ascending into the Glory-Cloud (Acts 1:11). In other words, he is leaving space, time and earth to be with his Father as co-Regent and to send with him from the Heights of Glory the Paraclete (Counselor, Comforter & Advocate) to the expectant disciples, after a suitable period of waiting by them (see Acts 2). The Paraclete who is the Holy Spirit, acting in the Name of Jesus and bringing his virtues and gifts, will come to be with them and all the baptized people of God, even as the exalted Lord Jesus continues to rule his Church from heaven.
The lighted Easter Candle portrays the presence of the Resurrected Lord Jesus from Easter Day till his Ascension, forty unique days. Its extinguishing after the Epistle, which proclaims the Ascension, on the 40 th day proclaims that the Risen Lord is also now the Ascended and Exalted Lord.
So why do the rubrics of modern, post 1960s liturgies instruct that the Easter Candle be kept alight for fifty days, until the Feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost? Because the liturgists were greatly taken in the 1960s and later with the notion of a unitary feast of Easter, being a fifty day feast, from the Day of the Resurrection to the Day of Pentecost. So, imitating what they thought was early Church practice, they called the Sundays in this period the Sundays of Easter (instead of after Easter) and they taught that public confession of sins in this long Easter is not appropriate for it is a 50-day event of joy. And in this context they said that the Candle burns for the 50 days for it is the Easter Candle.
Much is lost theologically and liturgically and symbolically by this supposed reversion to early Church practice; most obviously the clarity of the festival of the Ascension as a real Feast and as a necessary event in the life and ministry of the Incarnate Son of God is diminished--as is seen in the transfer of this festival to the following Sunday by many parishes and then its getting lost in that day!.
Let us revive the Festival of the Ascension in its fullness, for it celebrates the most glorious exalted Lord Jesus and his heavenly Session as the unique King, Priest and Prophet, who is the One Mediator between God and man!
May 15th 2007-- The Revd Dr Peter Toon