Candlemas

“Today is a day of purification, renewal, and hope.”

The Presentation of our Lord commemorates when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem where he was greeted by Simeon and Anna. By the Law every first born male was to be consecrated to the Lord.” This happened 40 days after his birth at Christmas.

It is a feast day though it does not often fall on a Sunday. Candlemas occurs at a period between the December solstice and the March equinox.

Candlemas is actually a very old feast, celebrated by both the churches of the East and the West, and in some places it is on this day that the creche is finally removed from the church.  The passage from the words in this scripture are often part of Compline.

Candles are blessed on this day (hence the name “Candlemas”). It was the day of the year when all the candles, that were used in the church during the coming year, were brought into church and a blessing was said over them – so it was the Festival Day (or ‘mass’) of the Candles. Candles were important in those days not only because there was no electric lights. Some people thought they gave protection against plague and illness and famine. For Christians, they were (and still are) a reminder of something even more important. Before Jesus came to earth, it was as if everyone was ‘in the dark’.

Pieces of these candles are considered of great efficacy in sickness, or otherwise. When a person is dying, a piece is put in his hand lighted, and thus he passes away in the belief that it may light him to Paradise.

Ceremonies are often held on the eve where people come to the altar to kneel and have their candles blessed. It can be a service rich to the senses – candles and incense, purple vestments changing to white after the procession and of course music with the “Song of Simeon.” Simeon was an old man who was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen Jesus. He took him in his arm and blessed him. His song begins “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”

People believe that Candlemas Day predicted the weather for the rest of the winter. The weather proverbs express the idea that a fine bright sunny Candlemas day means that there is more winter to come, whereas a cloudy wet stormy Candlemas day means that the worst of winter is over.

Today in the rites of the Eastern Church, such as the historic churches of the Middle East, it is said at the evening service of Vespers. And in the Roman, Anglican, and other Western liturgies, like Mary’s Magnificat it is said or sung at Evening Prayer or Compline.

In the church s lectionary, the gospel story of Simeon is read on the festival of the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, known traditionally as Candlemas and celebrated on the fortieth day after Christmas. The Song of Simeon has been traditionally called the Nunc Dimittis, a title taken from the first words in the Vulgate Latin translation: Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine — “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”

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