In the heart of winter, the Church gives the faithful special means to remember the healing light of Christ. Rooted in ancient celebrations, Candlemas — a popular name for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord — is observed each year. This year the feast will be celebrated Feb. 2.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said the celebration is a reminder of Christ’s light.
“As Catholics, we have the tradition of blessing candles on the Feast of the presentation of the Lord because when Jesus was presented in the Temple, the priest Simeon, recognized Him as ‘the light of revelation to the Gentiles.’”
The candles remind us that Christ the light is always with us, added Brian MacMichael, director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“The blessing ideally takes the form of a procession where the people gather. The candles [are] blessed and lit, and then everyone processes to their place in the church while singing the Canticle of Simeon,” said MacMichael.
The candles have special utility, noted Bishop Rhoades. “The candles we use in the liturgy and which some people use in prayer spaces at home are a reminder that Christ is our light, and that we are called to spread this light in the world.”
MacMichael suggested a way to make the celebration come alive and hold vibrant meaning today. “People are still invited to bring candles from their homes to be blessed at the Presentation candle blessing,” he said. “Although we don’t rely on candles for light in our homes, as previous generations did, the idea of having our candles blessed, and the symbolism of the light spreading in our hearts, homes and world, is still very meaningful. Everyone being able to celebrate it this year at Sunday Mass is also a special gift.”
The Presentation of the Lord and purification of His mother, Mary — another ancient practice also remembered on this feast day — had their roots in the holy family but is ideally recognized in a larger group. Under Mosaic law, a woman was ceremonially unclean for 40 days after giving birth to a boy and 80 days for a girl. Mary would have taken her first-born Son to the temple for His required dedication to God: At the same time, burnt offerings would rectify her ceremonial uncleanness, her purification.
Jesus and Mary met two powerful figures that special day. Luke’s Gospel explains they met Simeon and Anna, prophet and prophetess, who declared the divinity of Jesus. At the meeting of Simeon and Jesus, the elder said, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2: 29-32, according to Emmons). Called the “Nunc Dimittis,” this canticle is sung at the candle blessing.
On Feb. 3, the day after Candlemas, a blessing of throats is done in many parishes in honor of the feast of St. Blase, bishop and martyr. St. Blase is known for saving a boy who was choking on a fish bone.
“It’s beautiful that they’re celebrated back to back on the calendar,” said MacMichael. “The candles used for the throat blessing are blessed the previous day, and the connection makes it clear that St. Blase is a witness to Jesus Christ, from whom all light and healing ultimately comes.”
Both those with health challenges and those prayerfully seeking to maintain good health may participate. To impart the blessing a minister holds two crossed candles at the throat of the recipient, saying, “Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from every disease of the throat and from every other illness: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Bishop Kevin Rhoades will celebrate Mass for the Presentation and lead the candle blessing at Fort Wayne’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Saturday, Feb. 1, at 5 p.m.
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