The Feast of Candlemass

The Feast of Candlemass

by Jenny Arnold

Psalm 18:28, KJV, ‘For Thou wilt light my candle. The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.’

On February 2, the Traditional and Orthodox Churches will celebrate the Feast of Candlemass. The date is significant as it falls 40 days following the birth of Jesus which is celebrated on December 25 by most Western Churches. 

Under traditional Old Testament Jewish Law, Mary and Joseph, as Jesus’s parents, would have desired to fulfil what the Law required; and therefore, have taken the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord God and give thanks for His safe delivery.

It would also have been the day that Mary would have gone through a ritual purification process again according to the Jewish Law at that time. Hence this day is also known as ‘The Presentation of Jesus,’ or alternatively, ‘The Purification of the Virgin Mary’ in Orthodox Churches.

This day has a third alternative which means ‘meeting’ in Greek, Hippopent. It is also called, ‘the Meeting of our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ Why this name? Well, the ‘meeting’ refers to the meeting with the elderly man and prophet Simeon. He had been given a prophesy from the Lord God Almighty that he would not die before the Lord revealed to him (Simeon that is) the Lord’s Messiah (Jesus Christ).

We can read the account here in Luke 2:25-35, NLT, ‘At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

27That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30I have seen Your salvation, 31which You have prepared for all people. 32He is a light to reveal God to the Gentiles [nations], and He is the glory of Your people Israel!”

33Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about Him. 34Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. 35As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”’

In these verses, we read that the prophesy named Jesus as a light to the Gentiles; and we now refer to Jesus Christ as the Light of the World. Indeed, in John 8:12, Jesus refers to Himself as that Light, ‘Jesus said I am the Light of the world, illuminating its darkness.’

Candles

Candles are often used in traditional Churches as a representation of Jesus not only being the Light of the world’s darkness, but as a light of hope. In many places of Christian worship there are special areas where anyone who wishes may take a small candle from those provided, light it and place it in either a candle holder or sometimes a bed of sand.

This is as their own symbol of hope perhaps in the darkness of their own life which may spring from despair, bereavement, pain – either emotional or physical – or whatever their own darkness is about.

Before I gave my own life to Christ, and having been raised in the Anglican Church, I would often visit a Cathedral (usually Hereford or Gloucester) and do exactly this as I found it comforting and hope inspiring. 

I did not see it then as representing Jesus’ light in my own darkness; but looking back now, I do believe that the Holy Spirit was guiding me at those times of great despair and emotional distress which frequently seemed to occur in my life.

There is also an historical significance to candles in the life of the past. In the days before electricity, or even the gas lighting of the Victorian era, candles were greatly valued as there was no other means of having light in winter time. There was no other way of lighting homes, whether grand or humble, to read or sew, to care for the sick.

So to coincide with the Hippopent, or to celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple, it became the custom to bring candles into the Church on February 2. A blessing was said over them in thanksgiving for the light they would provide; and so it became known as Candlemass Day or the Mass for the Candles. In Roman times, candles were also used to banish evil spirits.

But there is even more significance to be found in this particular date as it is midway between the winter solstice of the 21 December and the Spring solstice of 21 March.

In pagan pre-Christian times this day was known as, ‘The Festival of Lights.’ It is the day when the tilt of the earth on its axis in its orbit around the sun begins to provide more daylight. This allows the bulbs long buried beneath frozen ground or even snow to begin to push tiny green shoots up into the increased light with their promise or new life. 

I have this morning been out into my little garden and have felt tiny shoots pushing through the very cold earth in their pots. They are signs of hope and joy to come for they are signs that the bulbs my friend Vanessa and I planted back in the autumn. Bulbs of narcissus, daffodil, tulip and crocus will, in their given time, produce wonderful gifts of colour and scent. God-given of course.

This is also the time of year to prune my two blackcurrant bushes and I have now cut these right back knowing that they will give me delicious, vitamin C rich fruits in the summer. Deep pleasure to come when lightly cooked and drizzled with double cream.

And so there is hope, and promise in the even now lengthening days.

Come to Jesus’ Light

I am wondering what you, as you read this, may have buried in the darkness of your mind or heart or soul, and which our Lord Jesus may wish to bring into the light of His perfect healing? 

Perhaps you may consider taking a lighted candle and contemplate the light of Christ, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Perhaps repeat this prayer,

‘Jesus – in this world of darkness – in this world of war – in this world of sickness – in this world of pain, please come into my life. Please heal me from the darkness of my past. Please be my ever present Light for my future. Amen

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