The Purification, the Presentation and Candlemas

News: Commentary
by Rodney Pelletier  •  •  February 2, 2018   

Feasts of obedience, judgment and light

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The feasts of the Purification of Our Lady and the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, point both to Our Lord and Our Lady, marking the end of the liturgical season of Christmas in the traditional calendar and reveal important mysteries for us to contemplate.

The Presentation is a great feast of the Church because it marks the first time God would be present in His divine humanity in the temple. He arrived in His temple seated upon his throne — the arms of His most holy Mother.

In the Presentation, the Mother of God followed the dictates of the Levitical Law despite the fact she didn't give birth to the Lord by conventional means. The mysteries of the birth of the Christ, the role of St. Joseph as foster-father and the role of Our Lady in salvation history would be left to the Catholic Church to reveal to the world.

Years earlier, the prophet Malachi wrote about the Son of God, referring to Him as an angel, a Greek term for "messenger:"

Behold, I send my angel, and he will prepare the way before my face. And presently the Sovereign, whom you seek, and the angel of testimony, whom you desire, will arrive at his temple. Behold, he approaches, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1–2)

The holy old man, Simeon, upon seeing the Messiah was filled with the Holy Spirit. Taking Our Lord into his arms he exclaimed:

Now, you may dismiss your servant in peace, O Lord, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all peoples: the light of revelation to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. (Luke 2:29–32)

He then said to the Mother of God, "Behold, this one has been set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel and as a sign which will be contradicted. And a sword will pass through your own soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34–35)

Simeon was making a reference to the rest of the prophecy of Malachi which goes on:

And who will be able to consider the day of His advent, and who will stand firm in order to see Him? For He is like a refining fire, and like the fuller's herb. And He will sit refining and cleansing the silver, and He will purge the sons of Levi, and He will gather them like gold and like silver, and they will offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice. (Malachi 3:3–4)

Candlemas is primarily a liturgical feast, being celebrated by the Roman Church on February 2 since at least the 7th century.

Honey and beeswax have long been considered by the Church a symbol of virginity. The candles symbolize both Our Lord in His virginity and that His conception and birth did not damage the virginity of His holy Mother. The flame on the candle signifies the divinity of Our Lord and shows Him as the light of the world.

The great19th-century liturgist, Dom Prosper Guéranger, the Abbot Of Solesmes lamented about the loss of understanding among the Catholics of his day about the importance of Candlemas and the blessing of candles — a lament that is still valid today:

Formerly, the faithful looked upon it as an honor to be permitted to bring their wax tapers to the Church, on this feast of the Purification, that they might be blessed together with those, which were to be borne in the procession by the priests and sacred ministers; and the same custom is still observed in some congregations.

It would be well if pastors were to encourage this practice, retaining it where it exists or establishing it where it is not known. There has been such a systematic effort made to destroy or at least to impoverish the exterior rites and practices of religion, that we find, throughout the world, thousands of Christians who have been insensibly made strangers to those admirable sentiments of faith, which the Church alone, in her Liturgy, can give to the body of the faithful.

Thus, we shall be telling many what they have never heard before, when we inform them, that the Church blesses the candles today, not only to be carried in the procession, which forms part of the ceremony, but, also, for the use of the faithful, inasmuch as they draw, upon such as use them with respect, whether on sea or on land, special blessings from heaven. These blessed Candles ought, also, to be lit near the bed of the dying Christian, as a symbol of the immortality merited for us by Christ, and of the protection of our Blessed Lady.

If you can, make it to Mass today — especially if your parish is participating in a procession and blessing of candles. Do something that Catholics have been doing for centuries.

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