On February 2, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, forty days after Christmas. In the 1962 calendar the feast is called the “Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and commonly referred to as Candlemas.
This is considered a “Christmas feast,” even though it is not part of the Christmas season. This is the last feast of the liturgical calendar that we commemorate Christ still as an infant child.
Candlemas is an ancient feast that has developed over the centuries. In the early Church’s liturgy, January 6 was a combined feast with Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, with February 14 being the date for forty days after January 6. The famous pilgrim Egeria who traveled to the Holy Land between 381 and 384 AD. recorded the feast of the Presentation on the 14th.
Another development is the color of vestments. In both forms the priests wear white, but before 1960 the priest would wear black, and then later violet vestments for the Candle blessing and lighting procession.
The liturgy focuses on the meeting of Christ with the elderly Simeon. With Simeon we rest our hope in the Lord. The Gospel includes the beautiful Canticle of Simeon, Nunc Dimittis, which is said at the Church’s Night Prayer.
Although this is a considered a Christmas feast, it also is clearly connected to the upcoming Lenten and Easter seasons. Mary and Joseph offering Jesus to God is the beginning of His earthly ministry for His Heavenly Father. This is the first of Our Lady’s seven sorrows, and a foreshadowing of the Cross.
Even the popular name Candlemas hints at the “light to reveal you to the nations” that we celebrate at Easter, the ultimate feast of Light. The blessing and procession of candles is more than a strong indicator of the upcoming Paschal Candle. There is also a link to the bees—candles for church use were traditionally required to be at least 51% beeswax.
Not every parish will have blessing of candles. Unless your parish makes the requirement, it is not necessary to have only beeswax taper candles to be blessed for home use. Candles designated for religious use in the home can be any style: votive, tealight, or taper.
Special foods for this day? While crepes are the traditional dish, dishes with a little fire are bound to bring the Light of Christ to mind, such as Snowballs on Fire or Cherries Jubilee.
With His grace may we continue to recognize the Light revealed to all nations and wholeheartedly be able to pray every day “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace.”
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