Candlemas 2015 at St. Augustine’s
Candlemas 2015 at St. Augustine’s
Last Monday 2nd February marked the final “peak” arising from the liturgical cycle of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany. The name given to the Presentation of the Child Jesus is Candlemas, and it is celebrated with due solemnity forty days after the Birth of the Lord (Christmas Day).
In these days when the dark winter season is beginning to give way to the promise of spring we notice a welcome increase of light. Each day we are glad to watch the minutes and hours of light increase. This feast is also about light, in the broader symbolic sense.
This feast (formerly the Purification of the Virgin Mary) has its name from Our Lady, because the Law in Leviticus required her to go to the temple for a cleansing rite after giving birth. The Lord did not need to be baptized by John in the river; He had nothing to repent. Mary did not need purification, for she was spotless. But still she and Joseph desired to fulfill the Law of Moses. This feast also reminds us of the beautiful tradition of the “Churching” of women after childbirth, a special blessing given by the Church, which these days is not so prominant as in the past. “Churching” was done in honour also of this moment in the life Christ’s Mother.
This is, however, really a feast in honour of the Lord: He is being offered to the Father in a foreshadowing of His greater Sacrifice for our salvation. The theme of offering, of sacrifice draws our eyes away from looking back at Christmas and Epiphany towards the solemn Passion and Easter triduum.
This feast is rooted in the account found in Luke Chapter 2. Mary and Joseph came to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the Law. Firstborn males had to be dedicated to the Lord. The two venerable, elderly figures of Anna and Simeon had the special grace from the Lord to have their dearest desires fulfilled before they died: to see the Messiah with their own eyes. It is in this moment that Simeon makes the prophecy about the sacrificial sufferings Mary will endure and he speaks his great Nunc dimittis, which Holy Church sings in the darkness at the end of the day for Compline or Night Prayer.
The solemn liturgy of this feast begins with a special blessing of candles and a procession before Mass would begin. The candle also brings to mind our baptism when we ourselves were presented as new sons and daughters of the Church, when we received the light of faith.
The Holy Church gives us candles so that we will use them. We use them in the liturgies of baptism and confirmation. We use them in the sanctuary to designate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, and on the altar, the place of sacrifice. The faithful also receive candles on other days of the year, the Vigil of Easter for example, or for Eucharist processions.These candles remind us that we too ought to be filled with light for others, in their darkness and difficulties, to see and be guided by the light of the Gospel.
Candles are beautiful symbols of our sacrifices. They are like living things. They move in their flames as they flicker. They communicate to our eyes a beautiful light and give contrast to their surroundings by illumination. They burn out at the end of their span. So do we. They are consumed for the Lord in the liturgy. So should we be. We do all these things. And so, using candles in important times is a very wholesome and noble Catholic practice. Lighting one of these little candles on a votive stand in a Church, as a symbolic sacrifice of our prayers and petitions is entirely natural.
It is a praiseworthy thing to take home a blessed candle and to use it in moments of joy, struggle and sadness. Prayers, accompanied by the flame from this candle, symbolise our desire to invite Jesus, ‘the light of the world’ into our lives, and into our trials. Lighting our candle at happy occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and Easter is also a worthy practice, alongside more trying moments in life.
If you haven’t already taken possession of a blessed candle for your home speak to your local priest or collect one this weekend from the porch of St. Augustine’s. Let the light of Christ reign in your hearts and in your homes.