The Purification of Mary and the Tradition of Blessing Candles
Forty days after the Nativity of our Lord on February 2nd, the Church celebrates the Purification of Our Lady. This Feast Day also has two other common titles: “The Presentation of Our Lord” and “Candlemas”.
Under Jewish Law (in Leviticus) Mary presented herself to the Temple for ritualistic purifying. Of course, Mary did not need to be purified, but she did so out of obedience. When she arrived there with Joseph and Jesus, they came upon the old man Simeon. We are told in the Gospel of Luke the Simeon was promised he would would not die before seeing Christ.
Simeon then uttered these words, the Canticle of Simeon, which is also as Nunc Dimmitis:
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My eyes have seen the salvation
You have prepared in the sight of every people,
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.
Here, Simeon referred to the Christ child as a “light”. Therefore, the role of candles became important in celebrating this Feast Day so much that it also became known as “Candlemas”.
On this day, candles that are to be used throughout the year are brought forth to be blessed. It is one of three major blessings in the liturgical year -- the other two being the blessing of Ashes and the blessing of Palms. A procession also takes place on this day, just as Mary processed forth with Joseph and the Christ child.
The deeper significance of the candles and their connection to the Blessed Mother was aptly explained by Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, in his "Liturgical Year":
“The mystery of today's ceremony has frequently been explained by liturgists, dating from the 7th century. According to Ivo of Chartres, the wax, which is formed from the juice of flowers by the bee, always considered as the emblem of virginity, signifies the virginal flesh of the Divine Infant, who diminished not, either by His conception or His birth, the spotless purity of His Blessed Mother. The same holy bishop would have us see, in the flame of our Candle, a symbol of Jesus who came to enlighten our darkness. St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking on the same mystery, bids us consider three things in the blessed Candle: the wax, the wick, and the flame. The wax, he says, which is the production of the virginal bee, is the Flesh of our Lord; the wick, which is within, is His Soul; the flame, which burns on top, is His divinity”
Christ is the light of the world, as he came forth to dispel our spiritual darkness. Hence, it is encouraged to bring candles from your home to be blessed by the priest on this day as well. These candles can be used throughout the year -- perhaps during Advent, during prayer at the family altar, during storms, or by the bedside of a dying person.
As candles are always used during the celebration of the divine mysteries, we have the ancient and beautiful Feast where the divine mystery of Christ was made known to Simeon. With candles blessed on this day, we can bring that sacredness into our homes and celebrate with our families.
Almighty ever-living God,
we humbly implore your majesty
that, just as your Only Begotten Son
was presented on this day in the Temple
in the substance of our flesh,
so, by your grace,
we may be presented to you with minds made pure.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.