Originally, a torch was a portable source of fire used as a source of light, usually a rod-shaped piece of wood with a rag soaked in pitch or some other flammable material wrapped around one end. Torches were often supported in sconces by brackets high up on walls, to throw light over corridors in stone structures such as castles or crypts.
If a torch is made of sulphur mixed with lime, the fire will not diminish after being plunged into water. Such torches were used by the ancient Romans.
A torch carried in relay by cross-country runners is used to light the Olympic flame which burns without interruption until the following Olympics. These torches were introduced first by Adolf Hitler's movie maker Leni Riefenstahl for the 1936 Summer Olympics.
The torch is a common emblem of enlightenment. Thus the Statue of Liberty, actually "Liberty Enlightening the World", lifts her torch. Crossed reversed torches were signs of mourning that appear on Greek and Roman funerary monuments--a torch pointed downwards symbolizes death, while a torch held up symbolizes life and the regenerative power of flame. The torch is also a symbol used by the British Conservative Party.
Uses in the Roman Catholic liturgy
It is a long standing tradition of the Catholic Church never to completely drop anything which once occupied a place in her public worship. In former times, liturgical torches were carried in Eucharistic processions simply to give light. The Church eventually adopted their use for Solemn High Masses.
According to Adrian Fortescue ("The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy "), the more correct form of liturgical torches are non-freestanding (i.e. cannot stand up on their own). Today, however, even in the Vatican, freestanding, tall candles in ornate candle-stick holders have replaced the former type. The torches are carried by torchbearers, who enter at the Sanctus and leave after Communion.
Anglicans of the High Church and some Lutherans use torches in some of their
liturgical celebrations as well.
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