At our recent Catechist Training session we suggested classes arrange a little visit to Jesus reserved in the tabernacle as part of their study of Eucharistic adoration. In that delightful, meandering way discussions often go, someone asked if sanctuary lights are always red like ours, and if so, why.
First of all, a sanctuary light (or lamp) is a candle or oil lamp stationed near the tabernacle in each church as a more visible way for us to the know where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. (When I go into an unfamiliar church, the first thing I do is look for it so I know in which direction to genuflect.) According to Canon Law (940) and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (316)*, there must be a special lamp, indicating and honoring the presence of Christ, shining continuously before a tabernacle in which the Most Holy Eucharist is reserved.
Quite often it is red for a purely practical reason – to distinguish it from the other votive candles that may be in the church – but it’s not uncommon at all to see a white candle instead.