02 Feb Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Candlemas Day)
Today is the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Candlemas Day) .
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace!”–Luke 2.
These were the words of holy Simeon as he received the divine Child from the arms of its mother. Who would not congratulate him that the Lord fulfilled his ardent longing, and that, too, in so perfect a manner, by look upon the Infant God?
To behold the promised Redeemer, and then depart from this world to his eternal home, had been the suppliant prayer of Simeon from the days of his youth to his venerable old age; and this silent but intense desire of his heart was gratified on the Feast of the Purification, which we celebrate today.
Mary, with the divine Child in her arms, entered the temple with Joseph, her virginal spouse. Simeon looked upon the Child and, the Holy Spirit illuminating his soul, recognized in Him the Saviour of the world; and not only that, but he glanced with prophetic vision into the future, and God permitted him to behold the consequences of His advent into the world,–the Church so gloriously founded by Him. He thanked God for the happiness and grace when he saw himself among the number of those for whom Christ was to become a sign of resurrection and glorification for eternal life. The Lord granted his ardent desire, and surely in a more perfect manner than he anticipated, from which arose his prayer: “Now, O Lord, dismiss Thy servant in peace!”
The example of Simeon indicates, in the most explicit manner, what is required that we may also bid adieu to life, consoled and strengthened in the Lord. O Mary, sweet consoler of the dying, obtain for us the grace of a happy death! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor of God!
Simeon longed to depart from this world. Unlike so many, even among those who have received the light of faith, death held nothing terrible for him. Why is it, beloved in Christ, that the approach of death is generally regarded with such apprehension, and even terror? Because the human heart is entirely too much engrossed by the things of this world–its goods and treasures. Men toil on as long as their energies will permit, to acquire what they deem a sufficient competency to enable them to spend their declining years in comfort, ease, or luxury; and when the grim monarch of the tomb bids them leave it all, their whole interior undergoes a fearful struggle. Men pass their lives in enjoyment, they are happy in the love and affection of the family circle, or their days pass on in dissipation and forbidden amusements, when suddenly death appears and bids them go. Ah! then what trouble, what misery, what resistance on the part of those whose prayer is not: “Now, O Lord, dismiss Thy servant in peace;” but a very different one: “Now, O Lord, let Thy creature enjoy the goods of earth, and grant unto me still many days with my family, relations, and friends. Ah! let me taste still longer the joys of earth.”
Simeon longed for death; not so the child of the world. Simeon held the Child Jesus in his arms, and pressed Him to his heart, hoping ere long to embrace Him in the kingdom of His eternal love; which circumstance refers to another fact, from which we learn the reason why every Christian does not long to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.
Man, indeed, believes in Christ, adores Him, and is resolved to live as a child of His Holy Church, but by all this he does not attain to the personal knowledge of the Lord, whom he loves, so to say only in name. Hence the weakness of his love, and desire, and longing for God. We are satisfied to live in His grace, but Jesus is not the principal thought, the principal wish, the principal desire of our hearts. Man lives near Him, but in spirit he is more engrossed with other men and objects than with God, and all that concerns His empire.
Therefore, he does not feel the ardent longing to leave this world, to haste to his Creator, and to abide with Him in the full possession of His superabundant love, and to sigh with St. Paul: “I desire to be dissolved, and to be with Christ.” How very different would this be did we but follow the admonition contained in the example of the venerable Simeon, holding in his arms the Infant Saviour. This should remind us of the presence of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament, and of the happiness of being permitted to have intercourse with Him therein. It should remind us of the great privilege we enjoy of speaking to Him, of laying before Him each wish of our hearts, and even of receiving His precious Body and Blood,–a happiness which was not granted to Simeon.
Indeed, generally speaking, what Christ was to do for us, was not so well known to him as to us. While Christ has already lived and accomplished the work of redemption in us, Simeon enjoyed but for a few moments the opportunity of remaining with Him in person; for Mary and Joseph left the temple, and took the little Infant away. But now, Christ abides among us in the tabernacle, and never for a moment ceases to invite and entreat us to come to Him. Oh, that we might fully comprehend how to appreciate and make use of this immeasurably great gift!–this gift of the perpetual presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament! Only through the perfect application of this precious gift will the meaning of all the relations of Christ become clear to us. When we call Him our Father–Brother–Friend–the Spouse of our souls, we begin to anticipate what our hearts will feel for Him when we behold Him unveiled–freed from the sacramental forms–when we look upon His glory in heaven, and embrace Him there.
In the measure that the personal love and knowledge of Jesus Christ increases in us by our intercourse with Him, in the same degree the desire grows evermore intense to fly to Him from this world of sin to a home of eternal bliss. For what would be the possession of the whole earth, with its riches and its pleasures, compared to that possession into which we enter, if we depart this life in the grace of God, and hear from His divine lips the blessed words: “Enter into the joys, the glory, and the delights of thy Lord.” “The conqueror I let sit with Me on My throne.” Oh, what are all the fleeting honors of this world compared with the brilliant luster of the crown which Christ will put upon our heads, when we shall have reached the refuge of His love in heaven! and what are earthly joys compared to those which He has prepared for His own, beyond the skies!
We may, it is true, enjoy the delights of the happy family circle–our parents, children, friends–and it will be a bitter pang to part with them by death; but the pain of that separation will be repaid a thousand fold by the bliss which a union with Christ in heaven will bring to us. Through Him we enter into the communion and beatitude of the saints, of His blessed mother, St. Joseph, and all the celestial host. Ah! then, may we not indeed, with the holy Simeon, and the venerable Apostle of nations, desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ?
One circumstance which intensifies that desire is this: What a joy it will be to leave the world, and with it the many, the innumerable offenses by which in every hour of the day and night Jesus Christ is insulted and crucified anew, even by those who call themselves children of His Church! And we, ourselves, alas! are not free from reproach in this regard; for we offend Him, if not by mortal sins, at least by innumerable venial faults and imperfections, from which we can not keep ourselves free without a special grace of God. What a motive to desire heaven, and to sigh from the deepest depths of the heart: “I long to be dissolved, and to be with Christ;” where I will be confirmed in grace, and forever free from the fear of displeasing my Lord and God; where I will be purified from every stain of sin, and will become an object of His pleasure and love for all eternity.
The holy Simeon was endowed with the spirit of prophecy. He penetrated the secrets of the ages yet hidden in the mystic veil of futurity; and the destinies of the Church were revealed to him. He beheld the combat which the Church of Christ would have to enter upon, and the different manner in which the children of men would apply or reject the priceless gift of redemption. When Simeon held the Infant Jesus in his arms, the massive gates of heaven were yet closed, and his soul must descend to Limbo, and wait until Christ would enter His kingdom of glory, and take with Him the souls saved through His passion and death.
Look in spirit upon your own dying bed. How different will it be! Christ has entered His kingdom, and there awaits the just soul with a heavenly crown. Now, if during life, our whole desire was to be with Him, a desire which displayed itself by our aspiration after the perfection and fidelity of the saints in imitating Him, then we will, after death, fly immediately to Him, and enter into His beatitude and love. God grant to us all, beloved in the Lord Jesus, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and St. Anna, the grace of a happy death, full of an ardent longing after Christ, our dearest Saviour! Amen!
“A light to the revelation of the Gentiles.”–Luke 2.
The feast which Holy Church celebrates today in honor of the Blessed Virgin has a twofold name. It is called the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. This name relates to the historical event, which took place when Mary presented herself in the temple, with the divine Child, that she might there fulfill the precept of a law which, properly speaking, did not regard her in the least.
The name “Candlemas Day” refers to the rite of blessing the candles to be used by the faithful, which is observed with proper solemnity by the Church. In regard to these blessed candles, there are three special periods of life when the Church places those candles, enriched by her benediction, in the hands of her children, and these are: First, at their entrance into this world–when they receive the sacranient of baptism; secondly, when, for the first time, they approach the altar, and from the hands of God's minister receive the Body and Blood of Christ; and, thirdly, when, at the close of life, the soul is about to go forth and meet the Judge of the living and the dead.
Let us consider today what relation the lighted blessed candle bears to our conduct as children of God in imitating Christ, at the baptismal font, at first holy communion, and at the bed of death. O Mary, who becamest, through Christ, a light to guide mankind, obtain for us the light of grace clearly to discern our vocation as children of God, and to walk therein with unfaltering steps! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Our Holy Mother Church places a lighted blessed candle in the hands of each one of her children, first, when they enter this world,–or, to speak with more exactness, on their entrance into the visible kingdom of Jesus Christ by the sacrament of baptism. Her intention in doing this is shown by the words which the priest, in her name, directs to the newly baptized infant: “Receive this burning light, and keep thy baptism so as to be without blame. Observe the commandments of God, that when our Lord shall come to His nuptials, thou mayest meet Him, together with all the saints, in the heavenly court, and mayest have life everlasting, and live forever and ever. Amen!”
What an admonition is contained in these words! Preserve pure and unspotted your baptismal robe; preserve the remembrance of the promises made by you; forget not your baptismal vows; observe all that you have so solemnly taken upon yourselves before the Lord. As Christians, you have renounced the devil with all his works and pomps; try, then, ever to live as true servants of Christ. And what is meant by a truly Christian life? Beloved in Christ, one glance at Him, who is the Light of the world, will teach us this.
Man, left to himself, knows but little of all that regards his ultimate destiny and last end; he can not realize the malice and horror of sin, for his spirit is shrouded in dark night, and he dwelleth in the shadow of death. But let him become well instructed in the truths of faith; let him look at Christ, the Light of the world, and consider what He,–through His word and example, from the moment of His advent into the world, through His life and death upon the cross,–teaches us by His Church.
Christ, the Son of God, assumes our flesh to free us from the evil of sin, which quenches in us the light of grace. Besides this, we learn from the lips of the prophets–from Christ Himself, through the teachings of the Apostles and their successors–that all are saved who here in the state of grace participate in the fruits of the Redemption. We are clearly instructed in all that is calculated to fill our hearts with hatred and horror of sin; we are told what we must do in order to be cleansed from it, if, after baptism, we have had the misfortune to offend God thereby, and fall once more into the power of Satan.
The Christian who, in this regard, permits himself to be thoroughly illuminated by the light of faith which Christ brought into this world, will become also thoroughly in earnest in his resolution to amend his life. “No more sin!” Such a one avoids the occasion of sin; yes, in the first moment of temptation, he cries out against Satan, in the most holy name of Jesus, “Depart,” and thus conquers the tempter, which, through his knowledge of Christ, and the study of His divine example and doctrines, but, above all, through his ardent love, he can easily accomplish.
If this be so, what then is the reason that so very few retain their baptismal innocence, and that by far the greater number lose it so soon? I answer by saying that it is because we forget to glance at Christ, Who, through sin, was crucified for us.
The second occasion on which the Church presents her children with a blessed candle, is on the occasion of their first communion. She admonishes them by this not to be satisfied merely to avoid sin, but with unwavering footsteps to walk after Christ in the way of Christian perfection. He is the brilliant Light which makes of this darksome earth a glorious way to heaven.
In our lives as true children of the Church we must strive ever to know, in as distinct a manner as possible, the most holy will of God, and pray always for the strength and will to fulfill it perfectly. And what is, in general, the will of God in our regard? To this question St. Paul replies: “This is the will of God: your sanctification.” Through what? This question also the great Apostle of nations answers with equal certainty: “Those also whom He has elected, He has predestined to become conformable to Himself;” and he says of himself: “Be ye my imitators, as I am an imitator of Christ,” and each true Christian should be enabled to say the same to the rest of mankind. But, alas, what darkness envelops that portion of the human race who know nothing of Christ; while the halo, as it were, of a brilliant sunlight encircles those who look at His bright example and obey His admonition: “Learn of Me;” and again: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice.”
To what heights of perfection can those Christians attain who glance at Christ and imitate His example! This we may learn by the lives of the saints; and, as this symbolical light sparkles in our hand at Holy Communion, Mother Church points at the same time to the source of all grace by which we are enabled to live in the imitation of Christ after the manner of the saints.
This, beloved in the Lord Jesus, is our intercourse with Christ in the most Holy Sacrament, which is the only way to attain, to His personal knowledge, to the perfect love of Jesus Christ, and to follow His example until we attain to the highest degree of virtue.
If the illuminative light–as it shines through Christ into the hearts of the innocent ones, who are united with Him for the first time through a worthy communion–is never permitted to burn dimly; but, by frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, is always enlivened anew, then indeed there is an unequivocal assurance that the fervor which characterized their first Holy Communion remains ever the same, and that their endeavors after Christian perfection in following the Lord will be crowned with success.The third period of life when the Church places the blessed candle in the hands of her children, is at the moment when the soul is about to leave the body, and its flickering beams cast their uncertain light on the pallid countenance and fading eyes of the dying Christian.
If we would that our zeal should grow constantly greater, and our fervor increase as children of light, let us keep ever in view the remembrance of the powerful word–Eternity–united with the abiding thought of the certainty of death and its approach, which comes nearer each moment. It is, as the Apostle styles it, the answer of death within us.
Happy for us, my dearest Christians, if this threefold relation of the blessed candle burns with ever increasing brightness around our spirits, for then indeed Christ will surely remain for us the Light to guide our steps to the empire of His glory! Amen! (4)
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
The 40 days of Mary's Purification are now completed, and She must go up to the Temple, there to offer to God Her Child Jesus. Before following the Son and His Mother in this Their mysterious journey, let us spend our last few moments at Bethlehem, in lovingly pondering over the mysteries at which we are going to assist.
The Law commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Tabernacle for the term of 40 days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. By another ordinance, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God (since the first-born sons of Israel had been spared in Egypt), and was to be redeemed by a small sum of money.
But could the Virgin Mother of God and Her Divine Son be included in the laws just quoted? Was it becoming that Mary should observe them? If She considered the spirit of these legal enactments, and why God required the ceremony of Purification, it was evident that She was not bound to them. She was the chaste Spouse of the Holy Ghost, and Her Son was the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things—how could She suppose that He was to be submitted to the humiliation of being ransomed as a slave, whose life and person are not his own? And yet the Holy Ghost revealed to Mary that She must comply with both these laws. Mary adores the Will of God, and embraces it with Her whole Heart.
The Son of God was only to be made known to the world by gradual revelations. For 30 years He led a hidden life in the insignificant village of Nazareth; and during all that time men took Him to be the Son of Joseph (Luke 3: 23). The earth possessed its God and its Savior, and men, with a few exceptions, knew it not. The Shepherds of Bethlehem knew it; but they were not told, as were afterwards the Fishermen of Genesareth, to go and preach the Word to the furthermost parts of the world. The Magi, too, knew it; they came to Jerusalem and spoke of it, and the City was in a commotion; but all was soon forgotten, and the Three Kings went back quietly to the East. These two events, which would, at a future day, be celebrated by the Church as events of most important interest to mankind, were lost upon the world, and the only ones that appreciated them were a few true Israelites, who had been living in expectation of a Messias Who was to be poor and humble, and was to save the world.
The same Divine plan which had required that Mary should be espoused to St. Joseph, in order that Her fruitful Virginity might not seem strange in the eyes of the people, now obliged Her to come, like other Israelite mothers, to offer the sacrifice of Purification. Thus it is that Infinite Wisdom delights in showing that His thoughts are not our thoughts, and in disconcerting our notions; He claims the submissiveness of our confidence, until the time that He has fixed for withdrawing the veil, and showing Himself to our astonished view. The Mother and the Child both humbled Themselves in the Purification, and man's pride received, on that day, one of the greatest lessons ever given it.
What a journey was this of Mary and Joseph, from Bethlehem to Jerusalem! The Divine Babe is in His Mother's arms; She had Him on Her Heart the whole way. St. Joseph is carrying the humble offering, which the Mother is to give to the Priest. At length the Holy Family enters Jerusalem. Whilst Mary, the Living Ark of the Covenant, is ascending the steps which lead up to the Temple, carrying Jesus in Her arms, let us be attentive to the mystery; one of the most celebrated of the prophecies is about to be accomplished in this Infant. We have already seen the other predictions fulfilled: of His being conceived of a Virgin, and born in Bethlehem; today He shows us a further title to our adoration—He enters the Temple.
This edifice is not the magnificent Temple of Solomon, which was destroyed by fire during the Jewish captivity. It is the second Temple, which was built after the return from Babylon, and is not comparable to the first in beauty (although it has been very much amplified by King Herod). Before the century is out, it also is to be destroyed; and Our Savior will soon tell the Jews that not a stone shall remain upon a stone that shall not be thrown down (Luke 21: 6). Now the Prophet Aggeus, in order to console the Jews, who had returned from exile and were grieving that they were unable to raise a House to the Lord equal to that built by Solomon, addressed these words to them, which mark the time of the coming of the Messias: Take courage… for thus saith the Lord of Hosts: Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will move all nations; and the Desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this House with glory. Great shall be the glory of this House, more than the first; and in this place I will give Peace, saith the Lord of Hosts (Agg. 2).
The hour is come for the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Emmanuel is about to take possession of His Temple, and the mere fact of His entering it will at once give it a glory, which is far above that of its predecessor. Amidst the Priests who are there, and amidst the crowd of Israelites, who are moving to and fro in the sacred building, there are a few faithful ones, who are in expectation of the Deliverer, and they know that the time of His manifestation is at hand; but there is not one among them who knows that at this very moment the Messias has entered the House of God. But this great event could not be accomplished without a prodigy being wrought by the Eternal God as a welcome to His Son. The Shepherds had been summoned by the Angel, and the Magi had been called by the Star, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem; this time it is the Holy Ghost Himself Who sends a witness to the Infant.
There was then living in Jerusalem an old man whose life was well-nigh spent. He was a man of Desires (Dan. 10: 11), and his name was Simeon; his heart had longed unceasingly for the Messias, and at last his hope was recompensed. The Holy Ghost revealed to him that he should not see death without first seeing the rising of the Divine Light. As Mary and Joseph were ascending the steps of the Temple, Simeon felt within himself the strong impulse of the Spirit of God: he leaves his house and walks towards the Temple; the ardor of his desire makes him forget the feebleness of his age. He reaches the porch, and there, amidst the many mothers who had come to present their children, his inspired gaze recognizes the Virgin of whom he had so often read in Isaias, and he presses through the crowd to the Child She is holding in Her arms.
Mary, guided by the same Divine Spirit, welcomes the saintly old man, and puts into his trembling arms the dear object of Her love, the Salvation of the world. Simeon cannot keep silence; he must sing a Canticle; he must do as the Shepherds and the Magi had done, he must give testimony: Now, O Lord, Thou dost dismiss Thy servant in Peace, because my eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared—a Light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2: 29 et seq.)
Immediately there comes, attracted to the spot by the same Holy Ghost, the holy Anna, Phanuel's daughter, noted for her piety and venerated by the people. Simeon and Anna, the representatives of the Old Testament, unite their voices, and celebrate the happy coming of the Child Who is to renew the face of the earth; they give praise to the mercy of God, Who in this place, in this second Temple, gives Peace to the world, as the Prophet Aggeus had foretold.
Simeon gives back to Mary the Child She is going to offer to the Lord. The two doves are presented to the Priest, who sacrifices them on the Altar; the price for the ransom is paid; the whole law is satisfied; and after having paid homage to Her Creator in this sacred place, where She spent Her early years, Mary, with Jesus pressed to Her bosom, and Her faithful Joseph by Her side, leaves the Temple.
Such is the mystery of this 40th day, which closes, by this admirable Feast of the Purification, the holy Season of Christmas. Several learned writers are of the opinion that this Solemnity was instituted by the Apostles themselves. This much is certain, that it was a long-established Feast even in the 5th century.
Blessing of the Candles
On this day, Holy Mother Church blesses Candles—one of the three principal Blessings observed by the Church during the year; the other two are those of the Ashes and of the Palms. The signification of this ceremony bears so essential a connection with the mystery of Our Lady's Purification, that if Septuagesima, Sexagesima or Quinquagesima falls on the 2nd of February, the Feast is deferred to tomorrow; but the Blessing of the Candles, and the Procession which follows it, always take place on this precise day.
In order to give uniformity to the three great Blessings of the year, the Church prescribes for that of the Candles the same color for the vestments as is used in the Blessing of Ashes and formerly used in the Blessing of Palms—namely, violet.
The mystery of today's ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to St. Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the nectar of flowers by the virgin bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, Who diminished not, either by His Conception or His Birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy Bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus, Who came to enlighten our darkness. St. Anselm bids us consider three things in the blessed Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virgin bee, is the Flesh of Our Lord; the wick, which is within, is His Soul; the flame, which burns on the top, is His Divinity.
Formerly, the faithful looked upon it as an honor to be permitted to have their own wax candles blessed together with those which were to be borne in the Procession by the Priest and ministers. There has been such a systematic effort to destroy, or at least impoverish, the exterior rites and practices of the true religion, that we find, throughout the world, many who have been insensibly made strangers to those admirable sentiments of faith, which the Church alone, in Her Liturgy, can give to the body of the faithful. Thus, we shall be telling many what they have never heard before, when we inform them that the Church blesses the Candles, not only to be carried in the Procession, which forms part of the ceremony today, but also for the use of the faithful, inasmuch as they draw, upon such as use them with respect, whether on sea or on land, as the Church says in the Prayer, special blessings from Heaven. These blessed Candles ought also to be lit near the bed of the dying Christian, as a symbol of the immortality merited for us by Christ, and of the protection of Our Blessed Lady.
During the distribution of the Candles, the Church, filled with emotion at the sight of these sacred symbols, which remind Her of Jesus, shares in the joyous transports of the aged Simeon, who, whilst holding the Child in his arms, confessed Him to be the Light of the Gentiles. She chants his sweet Canticle, separating each verse by an Antiphon, which is formed out of the last words of Simeon: A Light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel.
Filled with holy joy, radiant with the mystic light, excited, like the venerable Simeon, by the impulse of the Holy Ghost, the Church goes forth to meet Her Emmanuel. The Church would imitate that wondrous Procession, which was formed in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of Mary's Purification. Let us listen to St. Bernard: “On this day the Virgin-Mother brings the Lord of the Temple into the Temple of the Lord; Joseph presents to the Lord a Son, Who is not his own, but the Beloved Son of that Lord Himself, and in Whom He is well pleased; Simeon, the just man, acknowledges Him for Whom he had been so long waiting; Anna, too, the widow, acknowledges Him. The Procession of this solemnity was first made by these four, which afterwards was to be made, to the joy of the whole earth, in every place and by every nation. Let us not be surprised at its then being so little; for He they carried was little! Besides, all who were in it were just, and Saints, and perfect—there was not a single sinner.” (Sermon 1 on the Purification)
And yet let us join the holy Procession. Let us go to meet Jesus, the Spouse of our souls, as did the Wise Virgins, carrying in our hands lamps burning with the flame of charity. Let us remember the command given us by Our Lord: Let your loins be girt and lamps burning in your hands: and you yourselves like to men who wait for their Lord (Luke 12: 35-6). Guided by faith, and enlightened by charity, we shall meet and know Him, and He will give Himself to us. (8)
Image: Tapestry of the Purification of the Virgin in the nave of the cathedral of Strasbourg, France. This scene of Mary's life is also known with the names of Presentation of Jesus in Temple or Candlemas. (13)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff