Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Candlemas 2nd February
Some 40 days after Jesus was born, He was presented in the Temple. As a Jewish first-born male Child, He was to be dedicated, consecrated, set apart for the Lord, made holy and acceptable to Him. Jesus didn’t need to be made holy, for He was and is the Eternal Son of the Father, our Messiah, the Second Person of the Most Holy and Blessed Trinity. Everything that happened to Jesus during His short life here on earth was to set us an example and be for our encouragement. This ceremony in the Temple completed Mary’s ritual purification after having given birth also according to Jewish Religious Law, the Law of Moses which was given by the Lord on Mount Sinai. It was a special time to thank God for His blessings and the gift of new life He had bestowed upon the mother and father of the child in presenting him to the Temple.
The Catholic Church blesses new candles for use on the Altar and in Church on this Feast. As part of the celebration of Mass, we give thanks for the gift of light and the use of candles in worship of God and we remember that Jesus is the Light of the World. In His Birth, the Glory of the Lord was revealed. As the Magi visited Him, He was presented to the world, not just to the Jewish nation and peoples. In His Presentation in the Temple, Simeon foretells the reason for Jesus’ Coming to earth – that He will be a sign that is rejected and a sword of pain will pierce Mary’s soul too. These chilling words point towards the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus will make as the Lamb of God as He suffers and dies on Calvary’s Cross.
Simeon prays over the Christ-Child with the beautiful words of the prayer which we call in the Church the ‘Nunc Dimitis.’ It is a lovely prayer which is said as part of the Divine Office, or Prayer of the Church which is Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline or Night Prayer. (c.f. Luke 2:29-32)
The Jewish ritual of the Presentation of male babies in the Temple is like our Baptism today as Catholics and other Christian traditions who celebrate infant Baptism. In some Christian traditions babies are first presented to the Congregation and Church Community. They are encouraged as they grow to seek Baptism by immersion in water (like Jesus did in the River Jordan) and full Church Membership (like Confirmation) later on as they grow up and profess faith in Jesus for themselves.
A traditional custom on the Feast of Candlemas is to find and light our Baptismal candles or candles we received at Easter as part of the Easter Vigil Service from last year. On this Feast day, we can give thanks to God for our own faith, and our Baptism or dedication if we have not yet been baptised. Here is a recap about the Easter Vigil which links with Candlemas. In Medieval times, the Feast of Candlemas highlighted the end of the Season of Christmas and Epiphanytide and looked ahead to Lent and Holy Week, where the Church remembers the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. At this special service before Easter, a new fire is lit and we hear again the readings of our salvation history from both the Old and New Testaments. Here too, our Baptismal Vows are renewed and we are sprinkled with holy water as in our Baptism. We receive a lit candle which reminds us we are to shine like a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.
It is because Simeon and Anna recognised Jesus for Who He Is and declared Him to be the light which enlightens all peoples that we give thanks to God for light and light candles, which is why it is called ‘Candlemas.’
Our prayer this week is the Nunc Dimitis or the Prayer of Simeon:
At last, all powerful Master,
you give leave to your servant
To go in peace, according to your promise.
For my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared for all nations,
the light to enlighten the Gentiles
and give glory to Israel, your people.
Glory Be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.