Managing candle fire hazards during Easter mass
7 Jun 2019
Each year sees increasing numbers attend mass for the Blessing of Pascha (Easter bread) at Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral. Parish priest Fr Brian Kelty spoke about how potential candles fire risks are managed during the Holy Week, to ensure the tradition of blessing the candle-lit baskets continues.
Lighting a candle is an act of prayer.
Most Reverend Bishop Peter Stasiuk, Ss. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
In his 2019 Easter mass, Bishop Peter Stasiuk blessed parishioners at the Ukrainian Cathedral of Ss. Peter and Paul who worship in the Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic eparchy of the Catholic Church. Their celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is a visual feast, illuminated with candles that sit inside decorated baskets of painted eggs and other food. Each year sees increasing numbers attend mass for the Blessing of Pascha (Easter bread). Parish priest Fr Brian Kelty spoke about how potential candles fire risks are managed during the Holy Week, and in a surprising insight suggests the least likely to be at risk from a fire hazard is the congregation.
An open flame is always risk for igniting anything that can burn, and it’s also a cause of fire in our Church properties. The immediate concern is that it can put people in harm’s way, and damage liturgical items and property. If a church closes, the services for the parish may need to be held elsewhere. The safe use of candles and some attention to the placement of fire extinguishers can make a difference to the effective mitigation of this risk. Fabric, paper and other highly flammable materials including cloth are often used with candles to create displays for liturgical celebrations, and Easter is the most important event marked in the liturgical calendar.
Father Brian Kelty is the Parish priest for Ss. Peter & Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, in North Melbourne. He knows that importance of preserving the tradition of the ‘blessing of the pascha’ despite its obvious candles fire hazard each year. But the event has continued for many years at his parish safely, and there is a growing number of attendees that take part in Easter mass each year.
“With some consideration of the placement of fire extinguishers, and a few extra helping hands from our parish members, the event is a beautiful way to recognise the resurrection of Jesus and celebrate Easter mass,” he says.
“We light candles before the blessing of our pascha baskets. Creating beautiful displays in our schools and churches for Easter and other occasions is a special part of marking important moments in the liturgy. Unfortunately there are vestments and other fabrics, and paper along with other highly flammable materials that are often used with candles to create displays.”
Father Kelty agrees that considering how and where we use candles should be followed by safety measures, and providing information to parish and schools who are celebrating Easter with events using candles is worth reviewing.
CCI providing risk support materials that refer to candle safety and the potential hazards of fire that can be started by candles. Some parish choose to supply the candles and candle-holders, to reduce the risk. Understanding the fire bans in a parish district is also taken seriously by churches in areas where bushfires and extreme heat is a challenge.
CCI’s Candle Fires Hazard risk resources give parish organisers an opportunity to prepare their church and to help others learn about the hazards associated with candles.
“It’s a good idea to assess your current management program, and implement new procedures to make your church a safer place,” says Father Kelty.
The impact of fire and be financially costly, and cause damage to heritage structures, and it can mean emotional trauma or loss of support in the lives of parish members.
“We have a fire extinguisher in the sacristy, on the priest’s side. We have one upstairs, in the hall, and many other places, but don’t forget that during Easter mass there is a bucket of water going around as well,” he laughs.
“It’s always busy at Easter, and this year the numbers have peaked. We’re at the mercy of the weather and wind so it’s sometimes cold and people stay inside the church instead of going out and doing the walk around and returning.”
“Some places insist the baskets remain outside, but we’ve not taken this approach. We’ve managed to mitigate fire risks so far. As Bishop Peter says…”so far so good!” In fact, I don’t recall any fire incidents at all during our Easter services.”
Parishioners also help children who light the candles in the baskets before the blessing.
“We have lay people helping on the altar and during Easter we have more than at any other time.”
“Priests are at risk more than anyone else because they wear liturgical vestments. You really have to be aware of where you’re walking!”
Risk resources to help mitigate fire hazards are available for parishes and schools here.
About Father Brian Kelty
Very Revered Brian Kelty is Parish Priest for the Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in North Melbourne, celebrating ten years of priesthood in 2018.