Forty days after Christmas the infant Jesus was presented in the temple of Jerusalem and placed in the arms of the old man Simeon (Luke 2:22-40) who declared:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
In the Church this day is celebrated on February 2, forty days after Jesus’ birth. It is a major feast and is variously known as the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Feast of Meeting, the Purification of Mary, and Candlemas. Each name highlights a particular aspect of the day.
This day may be thought of as a festival of light. We hear about the light in today’s gospel. We see it in the candles that are blessed and carried. We receive it as did St. Simeon. That light is Christ himself, our salvation and life.The final blessing given at the end of the liturgy incorporates the theme and symbolism of this light.
It is customary on Candlemas to bless candles; the candles to be carried in the procession, the candles that will be used throughout the liturgical year, and candles that are given to the congregation to take home. The candlelight is an outward and visible sign of Christ who illumines our heart and inner being.
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) offers a beautiful and insightful reflection on lighting candles:
The candles which you light reveal to you the intelligible light. Just as the church, that house of great beauty, is full of light from many candles, so the house of your soul, which is more precious than that church, should be illumined and full of light in a noetic sense – that is to say, that within you all the spiritual virtues should burn with divine fire… The multitude of burning lamps signify the illumined thoughts which should shine within you like lamps, so that there should be no dark thought in the house of your soul, but that all should be aflame and shining with the light of the Holy spirit.
St. Anselm (1033-1109), Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking about the mystery of the Feast of the Presentation, invites us to consider three aspects of the blessed candles. He says, “The wax of the candles signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, the wick figures His soul, and the flame His divinity.”
The following is an abbreviated form for blessing the candles:
V: Our help is in the name of the Lord;
R: The maker of heaven and earth.
V: The Lord be with you;
R: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us pray.
O Gracious Father, almighty and eternal God, you created all things out of nothing, and by your command caused the labor of bees to be revealed in the perfection of wax. You commanded your servant Moses to keep lamps continually burning before you. Bless and sanctify these candles that their light may be for us a visible reminder of the true light who enlightens everyone coming into the world. As these candles, kindled with a visible flame, scatter the darkness of night, so also may our hearts be enlightened by the invisible fire of the Holy Spirit that we might avoid the darkness of sin, see your salvation, and attain to the Light that never fades away. All this we ask through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.