Catholic Activity: Candlemas Ceremony
Groundhog day on February 2nd seems to overshadow the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas Day. Formerly this was known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary, since this was the day Mary was presented in the temple for purification, 40 days after she gave birth. This is a little home ceremony for this feast.
The feast of the Purification of our Blessed Mother closes the forty days of the Christmas season. [Editor's Note: Since the revision of the liturgy after Vatican II, the closing of the Christmas season is now the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Candlemas now falls during Ordinary Time.] The day is also called the Presentation of the Child in the Temple, or the feast of Candlemas. On this day each member of the family should receive his or her own blessed candle to be lighted on birthdays, baptismal anniversaries, first Holy Communion, and in sickness. This is another appropriate occasion to invite friends to a home ceremony.
The family, who with lighted candles goes in spirit to the Temple with our Lady, will learn a wonderful lesson of her humility. When Mary went to offer her first-born Son, Joseph carried the offering of the poor, two turtle-doves, symbols of purity and fidelity. According to Jewish law, one would be offered as a holocaust and the other for a sin offering. The Book of Leviticus reads: The priest shall make atonement for her sin, and thus she will be made clean. Actually Mary, the God-bearer, was not subject to such a rite — no "purification" was necessary after a virginal giving birth to Christ. Nevertheless in her humility she observed the Law.
As the Holy Family enter the Temple, the aged Simeon and Anna, called by the Holy Spirit, wait to see the Child. It had been promised to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. Mary, the living "Ark of the Covenant," guided by the same Spirit, welcomes the saintly old man and puts the Salvation of the world into his arms. "Now," he says, "Thou dost dismiss Thy servant in peace, O Lord, because mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared to enlighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel."
The blessing of candles, which takes place on this feast, is one of the three principal popular blessings conferred by the Church. Ashes and palms are the other two. The father of a family begins the home ceremony by gathering the family in candlelight around the crib for a last time. [Editor's Note: This blessing is from the older version of the Roman Ritual. Also, the ceremony should take place in front of the family altar, since the Christmas season ended at the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord in the revised calendar. --JGM]
Father: Lord Jesus Christ, the true Light that enlightens every man who comes into the world, pour forth Thy blessing upon these candles; sanctify them by the light of Thy grace and mercifully grant that as candles by their visible light scatter the darkness of night, so too our hearts, burning with invisible fire, may be freed from all blindness of sin. With the eyes of our soul purified by Thy Light, may we discern those things that art pleasing to Thee and helpful to us, so that having finished the darksome journey of this life, we may come to never-fading joys through Thee, O Jesus Christ, Savior of the world. In perfect Trinity Thou livest and reignest God forever.
Evening prayers follow the blessing.
With the family and friends we usually have a candlelight procession from the dining room through the halls to the living room. There a Simeon of ten in a borrowed white Jewish prayer cap awaits Mary with her doll, wrapped in swaddling clothes to symbolize Baby Jesus, and a young Joseph carrying a cage with two pigeons made from modeling clay. In candlelight Simeon takes the child and prays his canticle. Then he blesses Joseph and Mary and adds: "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and for the rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."
Then the Antiphon, "It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit, that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord," is sung or said in unison. A family could easily make its own prayer to the Queen of Heaven, asking that the graces of Forty Days remain with them for the year.
There is a prayer by Abbot Gueranger which we like for Candlemas:
O Blessed Mother, the sword is already in your heart. You foreknow the future of the Fruit of your womb. May our fidelity in following Him through the coming mysteries of His public life bring some alleviations to the sorrows of your maternal heart.
Activity Source: Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota