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Candlemas (Presentation of the Lord)

Candlemas History, Information, Prayers, Resources, Traditions, & More

Candlemas (Presentation Feast) Definition and Summary

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, commonly called Candlemas, commemorates the presentation of Christ in the temple and the ritual purification of the Virgin Mary. The feast falls on February 2nd. Prayers: Candlemas Prayers

Basic Facts About Candlemas

Liturgical Color(s): White
Type of Holiday: Feast
Time of Year: February 2
Duration: One Day
Celebrates/Symbolizes: The presentation of Jesus in the temple and the ritual purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Alternate Names: Candlemas, Feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, Hypapante tou kyriou ("meeting of the Lord").
Scriptural References: Leviticus 12:1-4; Luke 2:22-39

Introduction

The Feast of the Presentation, often called Candlemas, commemorates the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the presentation of Christ in the temple, which occurred 40 days after his birth as prescribed by Jewish law. According to Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for seven days. Also, she was to remain 33 days "in the blood of her purification." Luke tells us, quoting Exodus 13:2,12, that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem because every firstborn child was to be dedicated to the Lord. They also went to sacrifice a pair of doves or two young pigeons, showing that Mary and Joseph were poor. Once in the temple, Jesus was purified by the prayer of Simeon, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. Simeon, upon seeing the Messiah, gave thanks to the Lord, singing a hymn now called the Nunc Dimittis:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

Simeon told Mary, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." Simeon thus foreshadowed the crucifixion and the sorrows of Mary at seeing the death of her Son.

The name Candlemas comes from the activities associated with the feast. It came to be known as the Candle Mass. In the Western Church, a procession with lighted candles is the distinctive rite. According to post Vatican-II discipline, (if possible) the beeswax candles are to be blessed somewhere other than where the Mass is held. Often your local parish will hand out candles, or you may bring your own, to be blessed before the procession. These may be saved for later use in your home. After an antiphon, during which the candles held by the people are lighted, there is a procession into the church. During the procession to the church, the Nunc Dimittis is sung, with the antiphon "Lumen ad revelationem" (Luke 2:32). This procession into the church for Mass commemorates Christ's entrance into the temple. Since Vatican II, the feast is reckoned a feast of the Lord (as opposed to a feast of Mary), and officially designated "The presentation of the Lord."

History

Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. The day was kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, with a homily on Luke 2:22-39. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany. This shows that the Jerusalem church celebrated Jesus' birth on the Epiphany Feast (as is common in some Eastern Churches today).

In regions where Christ's birth was celebrated on December 25th, the feast began to be celebrated on February 2nd, where it is kept in the West today. In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Either way, by the 7th century, it is contained in the Gelasianum Sacramentary. Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced the procession to the Candlemas service. The blessing of candles did not come into common use until the 11th century.

While some scholars have asserted that the Candlemas feast was developed in the Middle Ages to counteract the pagan feasts of Imbolc and Lupercalia, many scholars reject this, based on Medieval documents. While the feast does coincide with these two pagan holidays, the origins of the feast are based in Scriptural chronology. Some superstitions developed about Candlemas, including the belief that if one does not take down Christmas decorations by Candlemas, traces of the holly and berries will bring about the death of the person involved. In past times, Candlemas was seen as the end of the Christmas season.

Candlemas Day was also the day when some cultures predicted weather patterns. Farmers believed that the remainder of winter would be the opposite of whatever the weather was like on Candlemas Day. An old English song goes:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

Thus if the sun cast a shadow on Candlemas day, more winter was on the way; if there was no shadow, winter was thought to be ending soon. This practice led to the folklore behind "Groundhog's Day," which falls on Candlemas Day.

Today, the feast is still celebrated on February 14th in some Eastern Churches, including the Armenian Church, where the feast is called, "The Coming of the Son of God into the Temple." Most churches celebrate it on February 2nd.

Worship and Prayer Resources

Prayers and Collects for Candlemas

Candlemas Art, Photos, and Images

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Icon of the Presentation

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The Presentation (Bellini)

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Purification of the Virgin Mary Icon

More Liturgical Artwork

Traditions, Symbols, & Typology

Traditions
Blessing of Beeswax Candles
Saving Blessed Candles for other Catholic uses
Burning Candles in Windows & Everywhere in the home
Easting Tamales and Hot Chocolates (Mexico) or Crepes (Europe)

Symbols
Blooming of Snowdrops (Galanthus Nivalis)
Candles

Old Testament Typology Foreshadowing the Annunciation
Presentation of Samuel in the Temple
Jacob's joy in seeing his son Joseph again

Frequently Asked Questions

COMING SOON

Candlemas and Church Year Books

The Essential Mary Handbook (Bauer)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Holy Bible: New Jerusalem Bible
Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Cross and Livingstone, eds.)
New St. Joseph People's Prayer Book
The Study of Liturgy (Jones, ed.)
Spirit of the Liturgy (Ratzinger)
More Christian & Church Year Books

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In the course of a year, the Church celebrates the unfolding of the mystery of Christ, beginning with Advent, anticipating his first coming, and reaching a high point at Easter, the feast of feasts, celebrating Christ's resurrection. Through the Church Year, which includes the seasonal, daily, and yearly cycles of Christian time, we commemorate, and participate in, events in the lives of Jesus and his followers, through sanctified time. Thus, we experience in symbol what Jesus and his followers did in reality. We do this through daily prayer (The Liturgy of the Hours), worship, the Eucharist, the sacraments, art, changing colors, canticles, psalms, antiphons, symbols, and other means.

The Church Year, including all liturgical celebrations and times of prayer, is one of the most meaningful dimensions of the Catholic faith. Many Christians of all traditions feel drawn to this system of holy time, and prefer to orient their lives around the Christian calendar instead of the secular calendar. Postmodern men and women feel especially drawn to many elements of Sanctified Time: mystery, connection to the past, and a multitude of religious symbols and experiential elements. Thus the Church Year is a postmodern Catholic evangelism tool, and a means of spiritual growth for all who use it.

We now have All About...! pages for every season of the Church Year, and have many All About...! pages for various feasts, fasts, and holy days of the Church Year. Each All About...! page has a history, general facts, scriptural references, traditions, symbols, links, worship resources, sermons, an FAQ, and more material related to the particular season or holy day. We also have a helpful Church Year and Liturgy Dictionary, to define certain unfamiliar terms and practices. We are expanding our resources to include general prayers, language resources, and other tools peripherally related to celebrating the Church Year, but still important to its celebration. Enjoy!

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This page written by . Last updated 02-02-2013.

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