Since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by discovering why certain feast days always happen on certain dates. As it turns out, many of our Catholic celebrations closely imitate or pay homage to the patterns of life and worship that were first observed by the ancient people of Israel. For example, whenever a Jewish mother gave birth to her firstborn son, she and her husband would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer their child to God 40 days after the child’s birth. This ritual purification symbolized (among other things) the child’s special status of being claimed by God. It also invoked the Lord’s special love for His people that kept their firstborn children safe on the night of Passover – the same love that sent us God’s firstborn Son. (Another great example is the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th, which is celebrated exactly nine months before the Nativity!)
So it’s no coincidence that this weekend’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (also known as “Candlemas”) takes place 40 days after Christmas each year. As told in Saint Luke’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph received a shock when they arrived at the Temple with their child. Simeon, a holy man who had been awaiting the Messiah his entire life, rushed up and swept the infant Jesus out of Mary and Joseph’s arms, tearfully uttering the beautiful hymn of praise known as the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now You may let Your servant go in peace, for 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 immediately recognized the presence of the long-awaited Messiah: the Anointed One who had come to drive the darkness of sin and death out of this world. It is this Light of the Nations, Christ Jesus, whom we adore and worship this day.
Since the Catholic Church began observing Candlemas in the 4th century, this feast has symbolized a burning desire to purify our homes and our hearts to be bearers of Christ’s light to the nations. As such, many Catholics throughout the world celebrate this day by bringing devotional candles (vigil lights, Advent candles, home altar candles, etc.) to be blessed at the Candlemas Mass. At the beginning of each Mass this weekend, we will bestow a special blessing upon the candles brought by our parishioners – a prayer which symbolizes the purification which Christ brought into the world for the salvation of His people.
It is our hope that this blessing may flood your hearts with God’s grace and strengthen you to be His faithful disciples in a world that so desperately needs the light of faith. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!