February 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, which commemorates the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. It relives the events found in the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel where Simeon, and the holy woman and prophetess Anna, meet the Messiah as an infant. The great prayer of this Mass is the Nunc Dimittis (or Canticle of Simeon). Old Testament custom dictated that the firstborn had to be presented at the Temple, so that righteous man, St. Joseph, ‘redeemed’ the Redeemer of the world with two turtledoves for sacrifice. Tradition also directed that forty days after the birth of a child, a mother had to undergo ritual purification, and thus this feast has also gone by the title of the Purification of the Virgin.
This is among the most ancient feasts of the Church and it was probably the oldest Marian feast in our calendar. The oldest Catholic parish in the English colonies (in Maryland) and the oldest Catholic parish in the state of Georgia were both dedicated to this feast. This feast feels a bit like a part of Christmas has been punted into the weeks of Ordinary Time. In fact, this was the traditional date for removing the holly and ivy decorations of Christmas.
The theme of light is an important one to this feast that falls at the end of the darkest days of winter. It marked the commencement of spring in the minds of our ancestors, as Christ was the Light of Revelation to the Gentiles, so there were candlelight processions. It is commonly known as Candlemas (Candle Mass). On this day, we bless the new beeswax candles that we will use throughout the year, and we still encourage the people of God to bring in their own candles for blessing as well, those candles they will use in their prayer corners throughout the year.
Superstition associates this feast with predicting the prolongation of winter. In some cultures, an overcast Candlemas meant that winter was coming to a close, whereas a sunlit Candlemas indicated six more weeks of winter. Other cultures reversed this. In this country, of course, we watch the groundhogs emerging from their holes in the earth to see if they will see their shadow.
At our parish, we try to mark Candlemas as an important feast whenever possible. Some years, we move the Mass to evening to encourage more families to come, and we have had candlelight processions with the children’s choir or a schola leading us in chant. We’ve also had children dressed in costumes as the Biblical characters of the story and sing special songs associated with this feast (combining Mass with a pageant).
In 2016, Candlemas falls on Tuesday. We will have the traditional blessing and lighting of candles in Fr. Denis Hall followed by the procession up the stairs to the church for Mass. Any family wishing to have their candles blessed may bring a basket or bundle from home. Please note that because we will have this Mass on Tuesday when we normally do not offer Mass, we will not have our normal Monday morning Mass.