Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Commonly called Candlemass, February 2.

Probably from as missal or Breviary for the Presentation. The Song of Simeon, Nunc  Dimittis, can be  read beneath the picture. 
Candlemass is a double feast and ranks with the Transfiguration and Ascension as a feast day. The feast celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem 40 days after we celebrate his birth. The tradition of blessing candles developed in the Middle Ages and collects for the blessing can be found in such sources as old as the Benedictional of St. Ethelwold, a book of episcopal blessings from Winchester, where Ethelwold was bishop in the 10th century. The Presentation celebrates when Mary and Joseph went to the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem to have a common ritual in which Mary was purified after childbirth, and Jesus was subjected to the redemption of the first born in the form of a sacrifice of two pigeons or doves. Some Orthodox Jews still perform a similar ceremony, as it was a widespread tradition in Roman Judea. There were two special witnesses to the Presentation, one called Simeon, who had heard that he would not die until he saw the messiah, and the other Anna, a prophetess. Both spoke to the people in the Temple upon seeing Jesus on how he would bring about the redemption of Israel.

 The Song of Simeon, who was present at the Presentation, comes from Luke's gospel and is know as the Nunc Dimittis in Latin. Simeon said he would not die until he had seen the Messiah and so the Nunc is as follows from the Book of Common Prayer:

Lord, Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou has prepared before the face of all people 
To be a light to lighten the Gentils and to be the Glory of thy people, Israel.

Several Anglican/Episcopal Parishes use the Sarum Rite for the celebration of Candlemass. Here, the Church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Toronto, uses the Sarum Rite for Candlemass. Notice the blessing of the candles near the beginning of the mass. The Sarum collect is as follows and is very similar to that of our Books of Common Prayer:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we humbly beseech Thy Majesty that, as Thy Only Begotten Son was this day presented in the Temple in the substance of flesh, so we may be presented to thee with pure heart. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who with Thee and the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, One God, now and forever, Amen.

The actual blessing of the candles is very long (three pages of solid text in my missal, so I will not type it here. But of additional interest is the use of the 'Sarum bow' instead of genuflection. Even at the elevation of the host, the most important part of the Eucharist, the celebrant takes a deep bow after the words of institution.

The proper for Candlemass does not come from the bible, which is unusual, rather it comes from the writings of either Sts. Ambrose or Augustine, if not one of the other Church Fathers. This is not the proper from the Sarum Rite. Here's the text:

Senes Puerum Portabat            The old man was carrying the Child
puer autem senem regebat.       but it was the child who was guiding the man. 

And Tomas Luis de Victoria's beautiful rendition of it by the University of Malaga:
Candlemass, as it came to be called from the tradition of blessing candles, is the direct ancestor of Groundhog Day. Candlemass was a day for determining the weather for the coming months in several countries. Several Medieval poems link the patterns of the actual day of Candlemass to the coming weeks. According to this English poem;
"If Candlemass be fair and bright, 
Come, Winter, have another flight; 
If Candlemass brings clouds and rain, 
Go Winter, and come not again."
The situation is the same as Groundhog Day! If the day is sunny (so that the groundhog sees his shadow) then winter is not over, but if it is cloudy (so that he does not see his shadow) then spring is soon to come.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC, Candlemass 2012.


  1. Great post! Love your header image, too!

  2. Thanks Barbara,I think I may do a post for St. Blaise also.