Losing power last night in lower Manhattan made it necessary to light all my candles, which gave me occasion to reflect on the wonderful work done by bees. For while paraffin is now more common in making candles, beeswax is still preferred by some, including the Roman church, in which it is prescribed for the paschal candle used at the Easter liturgy and preferred elsewhere. Who am I to disagree?
Beeswax candles traditionally symbolize Christ’s nature, with the pure wax that bees produce from flowers symbolizing the pure flesh of Christ received from his virgin mother (the perfect flower), the wick signifying his soul, and the flame his divinity.
As Nathaniel Peters reminded us earlier this year, Pope Pius XII elaborated on the virtues of bees in his “Address to Beekeepers”:
Bees are models of social life and activity, in which each class has its duty to perform and performs it exactly—one is almost tempted to say conscientiously—without envy, without rivalry, in the order and position assigned to each, with care and love. Even the most inexperienced observer of bee culture admires the delicacy and perfection of this work. Unlike the butterfly which flits from flower to flower out of pure caprice; unlike the wasp and the hornet, brutal aggressors, who seem intent on doing only harm with no benefit for anyone, the bee pierces to the very depths of the flower’s calix diligently, adroitly, and so delicately, that once its precious treasure has been gathered, it gently leaves the flowers without having injured in the least the light texture of their garments or caused a single one of their petals the loss of its immaculate freshness.
Then, loaded down with sweet-scented nectar, pollen, and propolis, without capricious gyrations, without lazy delays, swift as an arrow, with precise, unerring, certain flight, it returns to the hive, where valorous work goes on intensely to process the riches so carefully garnered, to produce the wax and the honey.
That’s a bit harsh on wasps, perhaps, but until power is back up in my part of Manhattan (which may be some time) I’ll continue to join Pope Pius XII in his praise of bees.
I’m writing this, by the way, from the apartment of our editor, which, unlike our offices, is in the part of Manhattan that still has power. He’s out of the city and was kind enough to let those of us less fortunately situated come to his place to carry on the magazine’s work.