Last Sunday’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord marked the end of the Christmas season on the liturgical calendar. However, you might be surprised to read that this was not always the case. Prior to the liturgical changes of Vatican II, the Christmas season concluded on February 2, the feast of the Presentation of Lord (then called the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary). Of course, on this feast day, we enter into the joy that the aged Simeon experienced when the Blessed Virgin presented Jesus in the Temple, as was prescribed in the old Mosaic Law. Simeon exclaims, “mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel” (Lk. 2:30-32).
Simeon’s referring to Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel” forms the theme of the liturgy for the feast of the Presentation. That is why it has been a centuries-old tradition that candles be blessed immediately prior to the Mass for the Presentation. In fact, this feast has for a long time been referred to as “Candlemas.” Traditionally, after the candles are blessed, they are lit and all in attendance form a procession into the church to begin Mass. Although much fewer parishes do the procession today than in the past, the blessing of candles and the procession are still found in the current version of the Roman Missal.
Although the Mass prayers for the Presentation in the current Roman Missal express the beauty of Christ as the Light of the world, I much more prefer the prayers that appear in the Latin Mass for this feast day. In my opinion, the prayers that the priest prayed in old ritual at the blessing of the candles are much more specific and better help us to enter into what we celebrate in this feast day. One of them reads,
“O almighty and everlasting God, Who on this day did present Thine only-begotten Son in Thy holy temple to be received in the arms of holy Simeon: we humbly entreat Thy clemency, that Thou would vouchsafe to bless, and sanctify, and to kindle with the light of Thy heavenly benediction these candles, which we Thy servants desire to receive and to carry lighted in honor of Thy name: that, worthily offering them to Thee our Lord God, we may be inflamed with the holy fire of Thy most sweet charity, and deserve to be presented in the temple of Thy glory.”
Immediately thereafter, the priest was to pray another prayer:
“…mercifully grant, that as these lights, enkindled with visible fire, dispel the darkness of night, so our hearts illumined by invisible fire, that is, by the splendor of the Holy Ghost, may be free from every blindness due to vice: so that with clear sight our minds may discern what is pleasing to Thee and profitable to our salvation; so that after the darksome perils of this life we may deserve to attain to never fading light.”
Although we will not be doing a procession for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Tuesday, Feb. 2, I will be blessing candles at the beginning of Mass, as the Missal stipulates should happen. So, if you are able to be present for that Mass, feel free to bring whatever candles you might want blessed. In order to maintain social distancing, kindly keep the candles with you in the pew, and I will come up the center aisle to sprinkle them with holy water.
Blessings to you all!