Catholics light candles for the dead as an act of remembrance or as a prayer for their souls. They can light candles at any time; however, death anniversaries and All Souls' Day are particularly popular dates to light candles in prayer for the dead.
The practice of using candles in religion has its roots in pre-Christian cultures. Many of the European pagan religions that pre-dated Christianity used candles in rituals and to honor the dead, and the practice carried over as European cultures adopted Christianity.
Candles play a large role in Catholic masses, services and prayer. In the Catholic faith, they symbolize the light of Jesus Christ, so they occupy a special place on the altar during mass. Catholics also often use them to pray for specific people or to pray to saints.
The practice of praying for loved ones does not stop when those loved ones pass on; therefore, Catholics frequently light candles for the dead. They often do so in prayer at cemeteries, shrines or altars at church. Candles also play an important role in funeral services.
Although candles can be lit for the dead in remembrance or prayer at any time, votive candles play an important role in All Souls' Day practices. On this day, many Catholics visit the graves of loved ones and leave votive candles in remembrance. All Souls' Day takes place on November 2 and is designated to honor the dead. Some Catholics light candles on All Saints' Eve, which takes place on October 31, or All Saints' Day, which takes place on November 1, and keep them lit through November 2.