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What is Candlemas?

Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall attend a Candlemas service at Saint Michael's Anglican Church, Camden (Getty Images)

For the past three years of this column, I’ve written about Candlemas. I don’t see any reason to snip the thread now. We call this last hurrah of the Advent/Christmas cycle, 40 days after Christmas, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in the new-fangled calendar, the Presentation of the Lord.

Both of these mysteries took place at the same moment. Luke 2 describes how the Holy Family fulfilled the Old Testament Law, which said that a rite of redemption of the firstborn son should take place 40 days after his birth. Also, mothers would undergo ritual purification after childbirth. This is the moment that old Simeon saw the Messiah and pronounced his Nunc dimittis, and the many decades of widowed Anna’s faithful waiting were fulfilled.

The nickname “Candlemas” results from our solemn blessing of candles for use in church and in homes during the year. Where I lurk, we will have a Pontifical Mass at the Throne in the traditional rite, with the blessing, distribution of candles to all present, and the customary procession with polyphonic music and chants.

We will unite our prayers and hearts with our forebears in so doing. The practice of a procession on this feast is mentioned as early as the time of Pope St Gelasius I (d 496). St Bernard of Clairvaux said that in processing we imitate Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon, walking two by two with candles lighted from the blessed fire of the Church:

We walk while we sing to God to denote that to stand still in the paths of virtue is to go back. The lights we bear in our hands represent the divine fire of love with which our hearts ought to be inflamed, and which we are to offer to God without any mixture of strange fire, the fire of concupiscence, envy, ambition, or the love of creatures. We also hold these lights in our hands to honour Christ, and to acknowledge him as the true light.

The ritual offering of both Mary and Jesus in the Temple might prompt our own self-offering, especially at beginnings. The beginning of our lives, our coming into this world’s light, is an offering in baptism. Our candles are ignited. We should offer each daybreak to the glory of God. Offer, too, the commencement of every good work, that they bring light to others.

This is the Omnium Gatherum column from the February 2, 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald