On February 2 we resolve the last traces of the Advent/Christmas cycle with the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as it is called in the traditional Roman calendar; the Presentation of the Lord in the newer.
Forty days have passed since Christmas. Many people remove the last of their Christmas decorations now. The poet Robert Herrick (d 1674) wrote: “Down with the rosemary, and so / Down with the bays and mistletoe; / Down with the holly, ivy, all, / Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall.”
To fulfil the Law, Mary went to the Temple for ritual purification after childbirth and, with Joseph, to present Our Lord to God. The old man Simeon, seeing the Child as the fulfilment of his years of waiting for the Messiah, called Him “the light for the revelation to the Gentiles”. The reference to light in the darkness led to this feast being the moment for the blessing of candles and this day being called Candlemas.
Speaking of darkness, there is an adage that sin makes you stupid. Vice, vicious habits, can blind. This is news for many today, drunk as they are on their false autonomy, mired thoroughly in the allurements of the world, the flesh and deceptions of the Enemy of the soul. The traditional prayers for the blessing of candles point to this. Here is one of them, the third of the blessing prayers, from the older, 1962 Roman Missal.
“Visible fire” symbolises both the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and life properly lived, a fact seen by others: O Lord Jesus Christ, the true Light who enlightenest every man that cometh into this world: pour forth Thy blessing upon these candles, and sanctify them with the light of Thy grace, and mercifully grant, that as these lights enkindled with visible fire dispel the darkness of night, so our hearts illumined by invisible fire, that is, by the splendour of the Holy Spirit, may be free from the blindness of all vice, that the eye of our mind being cleansed, we may be able to discern what is pleasing to Thee and profitable to our salvation; so that after the perilous darkness of this life we may deserve to attain to never-failing light: through Thee, O Christ Jesus, Saviour of the world, who in the perfect Trinity, livest and reignest, God, world without end. Amen.
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