Christian Traditions 008: Candlemas or Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Von Trapp Follow-Along: Maria writes several paragraphs about this period, under “CANDLEMAS.”

INTRODUCTION:

This event is known as Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, etc. In some Protestant churches, it’s also known as the Naming of Jesus, even though Jesus would actually have been named on the eighth day after birth, when He was circumcised. This is one of the oldest Christian celebrations, dating back to the 300s AD. Because this feast points back to Christmas, it is referred to as a “Christmas feast,” even though it occurs well outside of the Christmas Season (which, if you recall, ends 6 January or the first Sunday or Monday after 6 January, depending on which denomination you use as your reference). It is the last event commemorating anything related to Christmas.

whiteCOLOR

White. Although Ordinary Time’s liturgical color is green and Pre-Lent’s liturgical color is purple, either may be broken by a special color for a special occasion—in this case, a feast for which the liturgical color is white.

2 February 2015WHEN IS IT?

Before celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25, Christians observed His birth, Epiphany (the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem), and His baptism all on January 6; and 40 days later, February 14, they celebrated His presentation in the temple and encounter with Simeon. Since at least the early 300s AD, Jesus’ birth was celebrated by the Western Church on December 25 because (as I’ll explain in more detail in a later post) we celebrate the Annunciation (the date on which Mary conceived Jesus) on March 25. Add nine months for the pregnancy to March 25, and you get December 25. (Again, more details will come in the post about the Annunciation.) Since we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25, we therefore celebrate Jesus’ presentation, the family’s encounter with Simeon, and Mary’s ritual purification in the temple 40 days later, on February 2. (In the Anglican Church, it may be celebrated on the Sunday between 28 January and 3 February.) Interestingly, ancient Roman women celebrated the goddess Ceres on February 1st, and so this may be an instance of genuine hijacking of a pagan holiday by the Christian church. On the other hand, it seems like an incredible coincidence that the pagan holiday so closely coincides with the purification date. In other words… the purification must occur 40 days after the birth, so it must occur on February 2… and if the Roman celebration of Ceres occurred on February 6 or even February 26, would we still call it a hijacking of the date or just a coincidence that they occurred so closely together on the calendar? (See Footnote 2.)

the encounterWHAT IS IT?

Jewish parents were to travel to the temple 40 days following the birth of a son in order to present the child (firstborn sons were sanctified to God and parents were to offer a sacrifice on his behalf) and for the mother to be purified from the ritual uncleanness of post-birth bleeding. In accordance with Jewish law, Joseph and Mary offered the sacrifice the poor were instructed to offer at such an occasion: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons (Luke 2:24). While in the temple, the new parents with the infant Jesus were (kindly) accosted by two elderly people who were very attuned to God through continual prayer and fasting: Simeon and Anna. God had informed Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw Jesus, he took the baby out of His parents’ arms and prayed that God would let him die because he had seen God’s salvation (Luke 2:28-32). Simeon blessed Joseph and Mary and then turned to Mary and made a prophecy of what Jesus would do and how it would affect her (Luke 2:34-35). After Simeon, a centenarian (see Footnote 1) prophetess named Anna saw the baby, openly praised God, and then went around telling everyone about the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:38). This feast was first celebrated by the Eastern Church as “The Encounter” (referring to Simeon’s encounter with Jesus) as early as the 300s AD, but was accepted in the Western Church, specifically in Rome and Gaul (France), in the 500s AD. In other words, it originally commemorated only the encounter between Simeon and Jesus specifically, or Jesus’ presentation at the temple more generally. Originally, it was a minor celebration. However, in 541 AD, a plague swept through Constantinople and Emperor Justinian I ordered a period of fasting and prayer, to end with a great procession and prayer service on this feast. The plague ceased, and the feast was elevated in stature. In the Middle Ages (by the 600s to 700s AD), the celebration of Mary’s purification became more important (whereupon it became the first feast in honor of Mary) until eventually, this feast was celebrated only as the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady with little or no reference to Jesus’ presentation or encounter with Simeon. This changed in 1969 to its present form, where we commemorate both Jesus’ presentation and Mary’s purification. candlemasAs noted above, we celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25 and so celebrate His presentation at the temple and Mary’s purification 40 days later, on February 2. As also noted above, ancient Roman women celebrated the goddess Ceres on February 1 and so some erroneously claim this event is based on a pagan celebration (see Footnote 2). However, even where it has a different basis, if you add a new holiday close to a now out-of-favor old holiday, it’s very likely certain traditions from the old holiday will be retained and transferred to the new holiday. The tradition retained in this case was firelight. Ancient Roman women celebrated Ceres by marching around town with torches and other lights. On February 2, the Catholic Church celebrates the purification of Mary and the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord by the light of many candles. Hence, “candle” + “mass” (Christian worship or communion) = “Candlemas.” The blessing and procession of many candles on this day is said to be representative of the fact that Christ is the light of the nations. In some places, Candlemas is celebrated by a procession of people carrying candles into the church from a gathering place outside the church, symbolizing the Lord’s entry into the Jerusalem Temple.

calendarLOOKING AHEAD

This is the last celebration of the liturgical year commemorating anything directly relating to Christmas. (Remember that the liturgical year begins with Advent, in November.) From this date forward, all events will point forward to Easter rather than back toward Christmas.

STANDARD ACTIVITIES

Probably in part because this is such an ancient feast, there are many traditional activities or observances as well as many modern activities based on more traditional ones.

  • (Traditional) Readings: Read the story of Jesus’ presentation with Simeon’s Canticle in Luke 2:22-40. You may also choose to read Malachi 3:1-4 (where Jesus’ presentation is believed to be prophesied) and Psalm 24:7-10 (a song about the King of Glory—Jesus—coming into the city).
  • (Traditional) Decorations: Put away nativity scenes and other Christmas décor. Because this feast is a Christmas feast, even though the Christmas tree comes down on Epiphany (6 January), the crèche (nativity scene) stays out until Candlemas. Traditionally, the crèche is packed away on this day. If any other Christmas decorations remain up, they are also taken down today.
  • (Traditional) Decorations: This day is celebrated with the lighting of many candles to symbolize how Christ came to be a light to the world. Celebrate by lighting many candles around the house or family room or small group meeting room (or use them in a Candlemas procession, outlined below). Alternatively, set a lit candle or several lit candles on the table at dinner. Alternatively, set nearby or hold lit candle(s) while reading Scripture and praying and even singing hymns in the evening.
  • (Traditional) Candlemas Procession: Have a family or small group Candlemas procession. Traditionally, churchgoers have a candlelit procession into the church on Candlemas, but families have observed family Candlemas processions for some time as well—in fact, it’s described by Maria Von Trapp! (I’ll note that the church is lit by hundreds of candles in the morning, but it seems both more scenic and more appropriate to have a family or small group Candlemas procession in the evening or at night.) Babies’ candles are placed on candlesticks on the mantel while everyone else carries their lit candles. The troupe marches around the house (indoors or outdoors) while the leader (in a family, the father) reads the Canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) and everyone recites the Antiphon after each verse. After the reading and recitation, you may choose to sing hymns while marching. The procession looks like this (L=Leader, A=All):
    • L: “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word…” (Luke 2:29)
    • A: “A Light to the revelation of the Gentiles: and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    • L: “For my eyes have seen Your salvation…” (Luke 2:30)
    • A: “A Light to the revelation of the Gentiles: and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    • L: “Which You have prepared before the face of all people…” (Luke 2:31)
    • A: “A Light to the revelation of the Gentiles: and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    • L: “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and a glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)
    • A: “A Light to the revelation of the Gentiles: and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    • Hymns (see below for ideas)
  • (Traditional) Hymns: Traditionally, certain hymns are sung on Candlemas, both in church and in the home family Candlemas procession. Honestly, all the recommended hymns are thoroughly Catholic (Salve Regina; O Sanctissima; Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above, all venerating Mary). For non-Catholics observing this at home, I recommend the following. See Footnote 3 for the lyrics and links to the tunes.
    • (Kids) This Little Light of Mine
    • Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
    • Christ is the World’s Light
    • The Light of the World is Jesus
    • Let There Be Light
  • (Traditional) Blessing: Traditionally, special household candles called gromnice, which are lit and set in windows during storms to ward off more storms, may be blessed in a Catholic home by a Catholic priest. Nowadays, candles other than gromnice are blessed, as in this blessing, placed on the home altar, and lit during times of difficulty, danger, sickness, bad weather, etc. You may make a variation on that blessing to bless your own candles, or perhaps as an Evangelical version, since Evangelicals don’t believe in objects being imbued with mystical or spiritual power, bless your house that it would always be filled with light, both visible and spiritual.
  • (Traditional) Prayer: There are actually five traditional prayers said on Candlemas, which can be found here. However, they’re extremely Catholic. Although that’s not in itself a problem, this series is really about an Evangelical (me) learning and observing Christian traditions, but an Evangelical can’t really observe a tradition that is 100% Catholic for reasons I won’t get into now. So as you’ll see here and in many other places, I’ll be adapting many Catholic or Protestant traditions into something an Evangelical could also observe—for example, the heavily edited prayers below.
    • “Grant unto us, Lord Jesus, ever to follow the example of Your holy family. Christ Jesus, our most loving Redeemer, Who having come to enlighten the world with Your teaching and example, chose to pass the greater part of Your life in humility and subjection to Mary and Joseph in the poor home of Nazareth, thus sanctifying the Family that was to be an example for all Christian families, graciously receive our family as it dedicates and consecrates itself to You this day. Defend us, guard us and establish among us Your holy fear, true peace, and concord in Christian love: in order that, by conforming ourselves to the divine pattern of Your family, we may be able to attain to eternal happiness. Amen.”
    • “God, Heavenly Father, it was part of Your eternal decree that Your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, should form a holy family with His mother, Mary, and His foster father, Joseph. In Nazareth, home life was sanctified, and a perfect example was given to every Christian family. We pray that You help us to fully comprehend and faithfully imitate the virtues of the Holy Family. Amen.” (Adapted from The Prayer Book.)

KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES

Knit or crochet a candle for Candlemas! Geez, that was an obvious one…

  • Knitting Pattern: “Birthday Cake Candle” by Toki Haus (here) OR “Advent Garland 2, Candle” by Frankie Brown (here) OR “Christmas Tree Candle” by Becky Kibblewhite (here). (Note: None of these patterns say how big the final product is, so I can’t vouch for them.)
  • Crochet Pattern: “Tiny Cake” by Amigurple (here). (Note: crochet only the candle, not the cake. With the cake, it measures 4 inches, so it should be the right size without the cake.)

じゃあまたね!

FOOTNOTES

Footnote 1: Anna as a Centenarian (a person at least 100 years old). The Bible doesn’t tell us how old Anna was when she met the infant Jesus in the temple. However, it says she had been married for 7 years and then a widow for 84 years. If she was at least 13 when she married, she would be at least 104 years old at the time. It seems to me that a lot of people like to say Mary was probably 13 to 15 years old when engaged to Joseph and when Gabriel came to her to announce the coming birth of Jesus because 13 is essentially the legal age of adulthood in Judaism and 13 is close to the average age of menarche (when a girl has her first period) today. However, there’s quite a bit of evidence that menarche occurs much earlier today than it did in the past. For example, the Netherlands is the country that has tracked the age of menarche for the longest period of time—back into the 1830s! In the Netherlands, the average age of menarche in 1830 was 17 years. Germany reported similar data: the average age of menarche in the 1850s was 16.6 years. Menarche tends to occur later in malnourished girls and earlier in well-nourished and overweight girls. So it’s possible Mary (and, therefore, Anna), living in a time when not everyone was as well-nourished as today, experienced menarche closer to the 1830s standard of 17 years. In that case, Anna would have been at least 111 years old when meeting the Lord. Anyway… 🙂

Footnote 2: Pagan Origins of Candlemas. A group of Modern Pagans believes Candlemas is a Christianization of a Gaelic festival celebrated around the same time of year, called Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Day. Brigid was associated with flames, among other things, which is perhaps where they got the idea. However, the feast of Candlemas was celebrated long before any serious attempt by Christians to expand into non-Roman countries (and therefore long before any significant contact between Christians and Gaelic pagans), so this idea is uneducated at best. If based on any pagan celebrations, Candlemas would likely have been based on a Roman one, such as the fiery celebration of the goddess Ceres, as described above. However, as also described above, even that might be stretching it a bit since it was the Eastern Church that first started celebrating it, since it originally had nothing to do with Mary, and since the date is directly related to the date of Christmas (which itself is related to the date of the Annunciation, which is related to the date of Easter). In order to have intentionally hijacked the date, Christians would have to have specifically engineered the date of Easter so that it would change the date of the Annunciation, so that it would change the date of Christmas, so that it would change the date of Candlemas… a very obviously unlikely scenario, especially given Easter’s connection to the Jewish Passover, which is steeped in a history several thousand years old. That being said, it’s certainly possible that Christians adopted the use of candles in the Feast of the Presentation from the Roman goddess Ceres’ celebrations. In fact, that’s what Pope Innocent XII (1615-1700) believed. It’s also possible that the pagan celebration Lupercalia, observed 13-15 February and concerned with the ritual purification of women, is the source of this feast’s addition of Mary’s purification to the commemoration, though several noted Catholic scholars vehemently reject that idea.

Footnote 3: Hymns for Evangelicals and Protestants. There is one kids’ song; the rest are traditional hymns. I’m not familiar with modern worship music, so let me know if you think one should be added. The themes should focus on the light of Christ. For Kids: This Little Light of Mine (by Harry Dixon Loes, 1920) (You can download a recording of the song here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/this_little_light_of_mine_im_gonna_let)

  • (1) This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
  • (2) Hide it under a basket? No! I’m gonna let it shine. Hide it under a basket? No! I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
  • (3) Don’t let anyone (blow) it out. I’m gonna let it shine. Don’t let anyone (blow) it out. I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
  • (4) Share my light with others! Yes! I’m gonna let it shine. Share my light with others! Yes! I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (by Helen H. Lemmel, 1922) (The tune plays on a loop here: https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/645. You can download a free MIDI file of the tune and view/save/print the sheet music here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/o_soul_are_you_weary_and_troubled)

  • (1) O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!
  • Chorus:
    • Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
  • (2) Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; O’er us sin no more hath dominion— For more than conqu’rors we are!
  • (3) His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!

Christ is the World’s Light (by Fred P. Green, 1969) (You can download a free MIDI file of the tune and view/save/print the sheet music here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/christ_is_the_worlds_light_christ_and_no)

  • (1) Christ is the world’s light, Christ and none other; born in our darkness, He became our Brother. If we have seen Him we have seen the Father: Glory to God on high!
  • (2) Christ is the world’s peace, Christ and none other; no one can serve Him and despise another. Who else unites us, one in God the Father? Glory to God on high!
  • (3) Christ is the world’s life, Christ and none other; sold once for silver, murdered here, our Brother; He, Who redeems us, reigns with God the Father: Glory to God on high!
  • (4) Give God the glory, God and none other; give God the glory, Spirit, Son, and Father; give God the glory, God with us, my Brother: Glory to God on high!

The Light of the World is Jesus (by Philip P. Bliss, 1875) (You can download a free MIDI file of the tune and view/save/print the sheet music here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/the_whole_world_was_lost_in_the_darkness)

  • (1) The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin, The Light of the world is Jesus! Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in; The Light of the world is Jesus!
  • Chorus:
    • Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee; Sweetly the light has dawned upon me; Once I was blind, but now I can see: The Light of the world is Jesus!
  • (2) No darkness have we who in Jesus abide; The Light of the world is Jesus! We walk in the light when we follow our Guide! The Light of the world is Jesus!
  • (3) Ye dwellers in darkness with sin-blinded eyes, The Light of the world is Jesus! Go, wash at His bidding, and light will arise; The Light of the world is Jesus!
  • (4) No need of the sunlight in Heaven we’re told; The Light of the world is Jesus! The Lamb is the Light in the city of gold, The Light of the world is Jesus!

Let There Be Light (by John Marriott, 1816) (You can download a free MIDI file of the tune and view/save/print the sheet music here: http://www.hymnary.org/text/thou_whose_almighty_word)

  • (1) God, Whose almighty word, chaos and darkness heard, and took their flight: hear us, we humbly pray, and where the gospel-day sheds not its glorious ray, let there be light.
  • (2) Savior, Who came to bring on Your redeeming wing healing and sight, health to the sick in mind, sight to the inly blind: now to all humankind let there be light.
  • (3) Spirit of truth and love, life-giving, holy dove, speed forth your flight: move o’er the water’s face, bearing the lamp of grace and in earth’s darkest place let there be light.
  • (4) Blessed and holy Three, glorious Trinity, Wisdom, Love, Might, boundless as ocean’s tide rolling in fullest pride through the world far and wide, let there be light.

 

EDITS

4 Feb 2015: Page edited to add paragraph breaks to the Footnotes that were accidentally eliminated in the published version.

Advertisements

One thought on “Christian Traditions 008: Candlemas or Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

  1. Pingback: Christian Traditions 011: Valentine’s Day | Schaabling Shire Shoppe

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s