Thursday, February 2, 2017

Candlemas: The Purification & Presentation

An icon of the Meeting of the Lord from Belarus, 1731AD.

Today, standing some forty days after Christmas day, we have the Feast of Candlemas -- the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, and the Purification of Our Lady.

This feast is considered one of the more ancient of Our Lady, though in more recent times has emphasized the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.  Of course, this is a commemoration of what we read in the Gospel of St. Luke, 2:22-38:
"22 And when the time had come for purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him before the Lord there. 23 It is written in God’s law, that whatever male offspring opens the womb is to be reckoned sacred to the Lord;[4]24 and so they must offer in sacrifice for him, as God’s law commanded, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.[5] 25 At this time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem, an upright man of careful observance, who waited patiently for comfort to be brought to Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him; 26 and by the Holy Spirit it had been revealed to him that he was not to meet death, until he had seen that Christ whom the Lord had anointed. 27 He now came, led by the Spirit, into the temple; and when the child Jesus was brought in by his parents, to perform the custom which the law enjoined concerning him, 28 Simeon too was able to take him in his arms. And he said, blessing God: 29 Ruler of all, now dost thou let thy servant go in peace, according to thy word; 30 for my own eyes have seen that saving power of thine 31 which thou hast prepared in the sight of all nations. 32 This is the light which shall give revelation to the Gentiles, this is the glory of thy people Israel.33 The father and mother of the child were still wondering over all that was said of him, 34 when Simeon blessed them, and said to his mother Mary, Behold, this child is destined to bring about the fall of many and the rise of many in Israel; to be a sign which men will refuse to acknowledge; 35 and so the thoughts of many hearts shall be made manifest; as for thy own soul, it shall have a sword to pierce it. 36 There was besides a prophetess named Anna, daughter to one Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser (a woman greatly advanced in age, since she had lived with a husband for seven years after her maidenhood,37 and had now been eighty-four years a widow) who abode continually in the temple night and day, serving God with fasting and prayer. 38 She too, at that very hour, came near to give God thanks, and spoke of the child to all that patiently waited for the deliverance of Israel."

The meeting of Our Lord with the aged and just Simeon, his magnificent Nunc Dimittis which we say every night at Compline, and the prophecy to Our Lady of the sword that shall piece her heart, and the prophetess Anna are all notable and memorable.  How striking, too, that she who was without sin submits to be purified according to the Mosaic Law!  May our humility and obedience ever reflect that we see in the characters present at this great Presentation and Purification.

It is also fitting that we, in the Northern Hemisphere, observe this Feast when we do: the light that came into the world at Christmas in the stable of Bethlehem, at the time of the darkness of the Winter Solstice, is now growing brighter and more public with this presentation in the Temple of Jerusalem.  The nights remain longer than the days, but the light grows yet stronger, and brighter, and we know that the chill of February will soon give way to the warmth of Spring.

Dom Gueranger notes in his Litugical Year: "The mystery of today's ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, who diminished not, either by His conception or His birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus who came to enlighten our darkness. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blessed Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the Flesh of our Lord; the wick, which is within, is His Soul; the flame, which burns on top, is His divinity."

Today candles are traditionally blessed and an integral part of the liturgies of the day -- hence the name of Candlemas.

Lumen ad revelationem gentium: et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.  A light to the revelation of the Gentiles: and for the glory of Thy people Israel.  (Luke 2:32)

Today we process with that light, which we know will, in the end, overcome the darkness.

For more, here are a couple splendid sources, the first concerned more with the history, and the second with the customs of this beautiful feast:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Candlemas

Customs of Candlemas (Fisheaters)

Today, too is the last day when it is customary to sing the Marian Antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater.  So, I close with a setting of that antiphon by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina:

Live well!


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