Yesterday some churches celebrated Candlemas, a festival which I only became aware of during my years as a curate. Another name for it is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which is more explanatory, but less evocative. In the Lectionary it brings Epiphany to an end and is time when the crib, which has been on display since Christmas Eve, is finally removed.

The Gospel reading for Candlemas explains it, for it describes Mary and Joseph bringing the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice. It is there that they meet Simeon, who takes the babe in his arms and praises God, using the words which we now know as the Nunc Dimittis, acknowledging that his life is now complete since he has seen the saviour of the world. The final two lines are of great significance:

A light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel;

 stating clearly that Jesus has come to both Gentiles (non-Jews) and also to the people of Israel. It is the reference to light which explains the term Candlemas, since Jesus is the light of the world.

There are various activities associated with Candlemas; one is a procession, either during or at the end of a special Eucharist, when the congregation, carrying lighted candles, process either to the font or to the church door extinguishing them with the words:

Help us, who now extinguish these candles,

never to forsake the light of Christ.

 Another custom is to bring all the candles to be used during the coming year to the altar to be blessed.

Since Candlemas is forty days after Christmas Day, there is inevitably a link with Lent, giving the feast day a ‘bitter-sweet’ nature, particularly since it marks the end of the celebratory season and looks towards that penitential time. It acts as a pivot in the Christian year, as if we say on 2nd February ‘One last look back to Christmas, and, now, turn towards the cross!’ This is particularly the case when Ash Wednesday comes just twelve days later, as it does this year.

Candlemas Prayer

Lord Christ, set me on fire.

Burn from me all that dims your light,

Kindle an answering flame in lives around;

That darkness may be driven back,

And glory stream into this world,

Transforming it with love.

Ann Lewin