The practice of lighting candles before the Lord goes back
to the Old Testament. God required the Israelites to maintain lamps burning before the
Holy of Holies (Ex 40).
Light stands for Christ, so the burning of candles or lamps, has
naturally come to symbolize Christ in a special way (Jn 8:12). A candle must burn
perpetually before the Real Presence in the Eucharist, therefore, as it did before the
Presence in the Temple. It can also stand for the people, present before the Lord, even if
physically absent. In the same sense burning incense rising to God can symbolize the
prayers of the faithful (Rev 5:8, 8:3).
Something that is "votive" has to do with a vow. God is
pleased with our vows, provided we keep them (Mt 5:33, Acts 18:18). A Catholic who lights
a votive candle, makes an offering and places an intention before the Lord. The candle
symbolizes their intention, it can also stand for their presence in prayer before God, and
their union, as a Christian, with Christ the light of the world. The votive element is the
exchange of the offering for God's answer to their prayer.
So the practice of votive candles has very biblical roots and is very
symbolic of who were are as Christians united to Christ, and of our complete dependence
upon God in our need.
Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL