Catholic Activity: The feasts of Light: Christmas, Epiphany and Candlemas
A monthly feature in Orate Fratres XXV was a series "In the Home" by Florence Berger.
This is taken from Orate Fratres XXV, No. 3, February 1951 on the theme of light and candles during the Christmas season.
Have you ever made a candle? Have you and your family ever really appreciated light? Have you ever thought about it and talked about it together? Our homes and schools as well as our theatres are actually built on the great white way, but we seldom think about it. Even the chubby finger tip of our three-year old can cause a blaze of brilliance in her own little room greater than a fairy princess dared hope for. Because we have so much and take it all for granted we shall neither understand God, the Author of Light, nor His three great feasts of light.
Christmas, Epiphany and Candlemas are the three blessed beacons of the Christmas season. Each one in turn flashes God's brightness to a world in darkness. Each one in turn is greater in intensity and spreads its comforting ray further and further. Each one proclaims that God, Light of true Light, has come to live in our midst first to Jew, then to Gentile, and then to the universal Church. Now we no longer live in darkness of spirit.
The family can come closer to a realization of these tremendous implications by three very childlike, simple, dramatic acts – each one a way of living the liturgy in the home. Yet we are not play-acting, for God knows we, His children, learn best by sense experience.
On the first Sunday of Advent we plunged our dinner table in darkness and then lighted but one candle of the Advent wreath. Do you know how little light one candle gives? Yet that is all many families, perhaps, even the Holy Family, ever had. I remember the first year Christine experienced this darksome dinner, she began to cry and fuss. She was a modern baby and didn’t want to hunt for her peas and carrots. The older children soon calmed her fears and promised more light with each succeeding week.
It is strange to hear your own girls and boys explaining the liturgy. Sometimes they say things more succinctly than an adult. “When Jesus comes at Christmas, “ they explained to Christine, “there will be a great light – not only the four candles on the wreath but His birthday candle too. There will be a star bright enough to bring three kings to Jesus, and finally we shall all have candles to carry when He is taken to the Temple – because God loves light. God is light.”
His birthday candle was the first visible sign of Christ with us in the new ecclesiastical year. We had decorated a large white candle with a symbol of the Virgin and Child and the text, “A child is born to us.” We used powdered show card colors (Ed: poster paints), mixed them with a little water plus some soap for a binder. In fact we used a bar of soap for a palette. It was only a symbol, you will say, but sometimes a symbol can speak more truly and forcibly than words about a truth as tremendous as the Incarnation. Children do not need too much explanation. Even Wordsworth sensed their quickness to understand the ways of God. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy,” and Christ is often closer to our children than He is to us. All that is needed is a reminder of His presence and this they find in the light of the Christmas candle.
On Epiphany the light had grown to a star of splendor and glory. We have made all kinds of stars in our family workshop, from solid brass to filmy glitter. Last year a very realistic planet hung over our dining room mantle where Jerusalem was reconstructed of shining tin cans and bright new bread pans. And the star, I forgot to tell you, was a large jello mold. Only the grown-ups tease me about my star. To them it looked like everything from a pipe-fitter’s dream to a vision of Fatima. But to the children it was real, and the three kings came in answer to its call.
Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.
Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.
Activity Source: Orate Fratres: A Review Devoted to the Liturgical Apostolate , The Liturgical Press