According to the Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a man-child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification”; for a maid-child the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was even doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for a holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin”; if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed. (Leviticus 12:2-8)
Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple (Numbers 18:15), and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:22 sqq.). No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem.
Once in the temple, Jesus was purified by the prayer of Simeon, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. Simeon, upon seeing the Messiah, gave thanks to the Lord, singing a hymn now called the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
your word has been fulfilled:
My own eyes have seen the salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon told Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against, (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” Simeon thus foreshadowed the crucifixion and the sorrows of Mary at seeing the death of her Son.
The name Candlemas comes from the activities associated with the feast. It came to be known as the Candle Mass. In the Western Church, a procession with lighted candles is the distinctive rite. According to post Vatican-II discipline, (if possible) the beeswax candles are to be blessed somewhere other than where the Mass is held. Often your local parish will hand out candles, or you may bring your own, to be blessed before the procession. These may be saved for later use in your home. After an antiphon, during which the candles held by the people are lighted, there is a procession into the church. During the procession to the church, the Nunc Dimittis is sung, with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem” (Luke 2:32). This procession into the church for Mass commemorates Christ’s entrance into the temple. Since Vatican II, the feast is reckoned a feast of the Lord (as opposed to a feast of Mary), and officially designated “The presentation of the Lord.”
Prayer for Candlemas Day
LORD Jesus Christ, You are the true Light enlightening every soul born into this world. Today we celebrate the feast of Candlemas. Before Holy Mass, the priest blesses the candles, whose wax is the humming summer’s work of countless bees. The flames of these candles will shed their light upon the altar at the Holy Sacrifice. Help us to realize, this day and every day, that our own humdrum daily work, if it is done for love of You, and in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, will be a supernatural work, and will shine brightly before You for all eternity. Help us realize, too, each time we see the blessed candles at Holy Mass, or at the bedside of the sick, that they are a symbol of Yourself, the Light shining in the darkness of this world. Help us to live in that Light, to make it our own, and to kindle it in the souls of others, increasing the area Of light and lessening the darkness in the World This, dear Lord, help us do, through the merits of Your own dear mother, Mary, who did everything for love of You, from the moment she brought You into this world till the day she joined You in the realms of light at her death. Then we, too, working for You, shall be light-bearers who will help to spread Your kingdom on earth, and increase the number of those who dwell in heaven, the city of eternal light. Amen.
Prayer Source: Rural Life Prayerbook by Alban J. Dachauer, S.J., National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50310 ncrlc.com, 1956